Entertainment Movies Essie Davis glitters in Miss Fisher glow-up
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Essie Davis glitters in Miss Fisher glow-up

Miss Fisher Essie Davis
Essie Davis brings the much-loved Miss Fisher to Australian cinemas this week. Photo: Every Cloud Productions
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Essie Davis is homespun gold, lighting up any story in which she’s threaded.

Her cameo on Game of Thrones was unforgettable; her performance in The Babadook put audiences through an emotional wringer; and alongside director husband Justin Kurzel, the pair tap into the core of  Australian mythology in the True History of the Kelly Gang.

But it is ABC hit TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that has inspired a whole new level of fervent fandom.

Based on the novels by Kerry Greenwood, a strident supporter of the series, the gusty feminist show ran for three seasons from 2012 to 2015.

Davis’s incarnation as flapper detective Phryne Fisher has been screened in 100 territories across the world.

Packing a pearl-handled golden gun, she thrusts herself fiercely and friskily into Agatha Christie-like whodunnits set in and around 1920s Melbourne.

Serious sleuthing, combined with a scintillating will-they won’t-they chemistry with Nathan Page’s stony-faced Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, meant it was only a matter of time before Miss Fisher leapt onto the big screen.

Inspector Jack adds an air of romance to Miss Fisher’s latest adventure. Photo: Every Cloud Productions

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears debuted at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where fans in 1920s fashion delivered a standing ovation

This week, it’s Australia’s turn.

But how have the series’ director Tony Tilse and writer Deborah Cox handled the transition from episode to feature?

They certainly get off to a rip-roaring start.

Resisting foolish calls from major investors to replace her with Margot Robbie, Davis is magnificent.

We first encounter a veiled Phryne scaling city walls and leaping across rooftops in 1929 Jerusalem.

Out to free a Palestinian girl Shirin (Izabella Yena) imprisoned for resisting British colonial rule, it’s a rollicking intro.

Knowing they had to go big, the creative team deploys impressive location work – namely, Morocco.

Fans have dreamed for months of seeing their beloved heroine traversing the Moroccan landscape. Photo: Every Cloud Productions

The glorious camp of Phryne dropping golden-shoed foot first through a window into the office of antique dealer Professor Linnaeus (beloved Aussie actor John Waters) is pure catnip.

A digitally realised daring train-top escape is also heaps of fun, which was made possible by a fan-based crowdfund of $800,000.

Melbourne, briefly glimpsed, also has to make do as London, for a funeral where rumours of Phryne’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

This allows for cute but under-utilised moments with Harry Potter and H is for Happiness star Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Prudence.

It also brings a grieving Jack into the very Indiana Jones plot involving stolen emeralds, foreboding eclipses and an ancient curse borne by sandstorm.

Hey fans, keep your eyes peeled for a split-second appearance by series author Kerry Greenwood and her partner. Photo: Every Cloud Productions

Sadly the unravelling mystery, while it has interesting stuff to say about colonialism, is a bit pedestrian.

With all the best action front-loaded, the film doesn’t quite justify an extended 100-minute runtime and newcomer Yena isn’t as central to the action as she should be.

Although the production team’s loyalty is commendable, series cinematographer Roger Lanser, who just completed The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, fails to make the most of the epic backdrops, despite overt references to Lawrence of Arabia.

Feeling like a regular episode stretched out with more cash to splash, it’s saved by the sheer luminosity of Davis, owning Phryne’s fabulous outfits.

From leather flying jacket to silver-beaded gowns, costume designer Margot Wilson’s works (The Dressmaker, The Nightingale) are stars in their own right.

Some actors can lose themselves to amazing costumes, but not our Essie. Photo: Every Cloud Productions

Loyalists are rewarded for their patience on the romance front too, with her toe-to-toe dance with Page crackling.

It’s a fun enough romp for the uninitiated, and for dedicated followers who have agitated for this moment for five years, it will most likely be a dream come true.

This movie is for them, and Davis, resplendent in a floor-length golden gown at Camberwell’s Art Deco picture palace the Rivoli for the Melbourne premiere, got the biggest roar.

She deserves this moment, as do Miss Fisher’s devotees.

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears opens in Australian cinemas on February 27

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