Watching the detective
ESSIE Davis’s wicked laugh suggests there may be just a hint of the feisty, self- assured Phryne Fisher lurking beneath the surface.
Indeed, the Tasmanian- born actress shows no hesitation in saying she rather admires the lady detective she plays in the new ABC1 series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
‘‘ There’s something particularly magnificent about Phryne Fisher, she’s kind of this outrageous superhero who fights injustice wherever she sees it,’’ Davis says.
‘‘ She’s witty and capable, speaks multiple languages, [ is] fearless, knows how to tango and shoot a gun, throw a dagger, fly a plane, [ is] an advocate for the underdog and women’s rights but also a lover of men. ‘‘ She’s just out there.’’ Based on the novels of Australian author Kerry Greenwood, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries follows the adventures of Phryne Fisher, a well- to- do lady in the 1920s who grew up on the rough streets of Collingwood but now uses her means and influence to help the Melbourne police investigate murders.
A woman who would be considered modern and confident, even by today’s standards, Phryne is well ahead of her time.
‘‘ I think she’s fantastic. Every woman wants to be her, every man wants to, well, sleep with her,’’ Davis says.
‘‘[ The year] 1928 was this period after World War I when everyone had been acquainted with the worst of grief and desolation, while also being before the Great Depression, so there was a sense of really seizing life at the time.
‘‘ There also weren’t as many men around after the war, so a lot of women didn’t get that opportunity to get married and have that typical life they were traditionally expected to have and Phryne is grabbing that opportunity.
‘‘ She went from an extremely poor background to inheriting massive wealth and titles, so she has a great sense of generosity and she’s happy to spend money and go to parties and live life to fullest.’’
While the series has the structure of a classic murder mystery – a la Poirot or Miss Marple – the reveal- the- murderer- in- the- drawing- room style is wrapped up in an exterior that is distinctly Australian.
Each episode delves into a different part of 1920s Melbourne, maintaining a lighthearted and good- humoured feel. Davis, 42, said it was great to see a strong female character onscreen.
‘‘ People love strong women characters. But she’s not strong and mean, she’s strong and fabulous and I think that’s the key,’’ she said.
‘‘ That classic ABC audience that loves their British murder mysteries will love it because of those similarities but there’s something to appeal to new audiences as well.
‘‘ And while I’ve made her my own, she’s still definitely the Phryne from the books. It’s very important with books that you are really true to the character because so many people are in love with that character already.’’
Phryne Fisher is not just a delicate wallflower looking for clues, she is an impulsive crusader who is just as likely to find herself scaling buildings or pulling a gun on a bad guy.
Davis ( pictured) embraced the chance to inhabit the heroine’s thrilling life just that little bit more.
‘‘ I did all the stunts they would let me, as many as I could, but there were a few things they wouldn’t let me do,’’ she said.
‘‘ It’s quite tricky running across a roof in the rain with high heels on, you know! I did end up with some cracked rib cartilage, a couple of sprained ankles, and we had to get very inventive about trying to shoot scenes around me limping.’’
A Bellerive girl and former Rosny College student, Davis has now starred in three bookto- television adaptations in the past 18 months, including Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.
She tries to get home to Hobart’s Eastern Shore as often as possible.
‘‘ Yeah, I got to visit Tassie for Christmas,’’ she says. ‘‘ It was only two weeks, and I’d have loved a little longer, but it was great being able to spend time with my family.’’