cover story: Meet Aunty’s saucy new sleuth

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T

HE lat­est heroine to hit the small screen is a lady sleuth who packs a pearl-han­dled pis­tol, cuts with her dag­ger-sharp wit and leaves a trail of ad­mir­ers in her wake.

Miss Fisher’s Mur­der Mys­ter­ies is a new 13-part drama se­ries, which fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of heroine Phryne Fisher, an in­tel­li­gent lead­ing-lady de­tec­tive char­ac­ter from the nov­els by Aus­tralian au­thor Kerry Green­wood.

Theatre and film favourite Essie Davis ( Cloud­street, The Slap) plays the lead, Phryne Fisher, whose ad­ven­tures un­fold against the back­drop of glam­orous 1920s Melbourne.

‘‘It’s an un­usual mur­der mys­tery, kooky and pe­cu­liar, ac­tion-packed and amus­ing,’’ Davis says.

‘‘It’s not like any­thing I’ve seen be­fore on tele­vi­sion any­where in the world.

‘‘Phryne is like a fan­tas­tic su­per­hero with the smarts of Sher­lock Holmes and the suave­ness of James Bond.

‘‘She has a string of lovers and loves to flirt but she’s also ex­tremely clever, witty and skilled – she can fly a plane, speak Rus­sian and Man­darin, throw a dag­ger, scale build­ings, dance the tango – she’s de­light­ful.’’

Davis says her Phryne makeover be­gan with an hour a day in the hair and makeup chair be­fore she donned one of 150 cus­tom-made cos­tumes ahead of 14-hour day of film­ing.

‘‘The cos­tumes were very au­then­tic, the cos­tume de­signer was adamant about that,’’ she says.

‘‘There’s lots of beau­ti­ful furs, silks, with a Euro­pean edge – ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful gar­ments. And the hair and makeup is ex­quis­ite, very au­then­tic for the ’20s.’’

While Phryne is a ‘‘bit of a minx’’, Davis says sex scenes aren’t hard­core.

‘‘Ev­ery man I had in my arms was beau­ti­ful. The sex scenes were vivid and ro­man­tic and some­times ac­ro­batic, de­pend­ing on the lover,’’ she says.

Novelist Green­wood, who was on the cast­ing panel, was moved to tears when Davis au­di­tioned for the role.

‘‘I guess I have a great dex­ter­ity with lan­guage from my work in Shake­speare pro­duc­tions and clas­sic writ­ings. Phryne is adept at lan­guage too,’’ she says.

‘‘It was very hum­bling to re­ceive her (Green­wood’s) bless­ing.’’

The cast in­cludes the vi­va­cious theatre great Miriam Mar­golyes, famed for her role as Pro­fes­sor Pomona Sprout in the Harry Pot­ter films.

‘‘Miriam is one of the most de­light­ful women I have ever met,’’ Davis says.

‘‘She’s hi­lar­i­ous and down to earth, a fan­tas­tic ac­tress.’’

Davis hopes the show will ap­peal to a a wide de­mo­graphic.

‘‘It holds some­thing more than the ti­tle sug­gests and is very mod­ern, so younger view­ers would find it in­ter­est­ing too,’’ she says.

Miss Fisher’s Mur­der Mys­ter­ies:

Fri­days, 8.30pm, ABC1.

She’s as smart as Sher­lock Holmes and as suave as James Bond, writes

Kate Hick­son Essie Davis.

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