Miriam Margolyes

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e06 – Death at the Grand

It’s a single location mystery, which is always a lot of fun on “Miss Fisher’s.” Though this single location mystery turns out to be an incredibly dangerous one. It’s the local Grand Hotel, which is no longer as grand as it used to be; someone throws the concierge (Nick Mitchell) off the roof and he’s holding onto a bag belong to one Miss Phryne Fisher, which is a big surprise to everyone. Including Essie Davis, who didn’t even know the bag was missing.

It doesn’t take long for Davis and sidekick Nathan Page—seriously, it’s fine, but Page really doesn’t get anything his own this season—to discover the mystery involves theft, gambling, and one Baron Henry Fisher (Pip Miller). Miller’s Davis’s estranged father, who’s supposed to be being responsible with his money but instead losing it in a rigged poker game to intensely creepy poker hustler, Goran D. Kleut.

Kleut wants the money Miller owes him and is apparently willing to get violent to get it. Hotel owner Nell Feeney is little help to the investigation, so Davis installs Ashleigh Cummings in the lobby to actively snoop. And this time, new constable Henry Hammersla is more than willing to learn from Cummings’s superior detecting abilities. Maybe a little bit too willing to learn… especially since Cummings hasn’t heard from Hugo Johnstone-Burt lately.

But while Davis and Fisher are convinced the murder has something to do with hotel-related Feeney, Kleut, or maid Michala Banas, the audience knows it’s creepy Colin Moody. Moody always in the background, lurking, as he starts stalking Davis, who’s got zero idea she ought to be worried about him. Moody’s less creepy than Kleut, which affects the tension, but not necessarily in a bad way—delaying Moody’s extremes just make them all the more effective later on.

Excellent direction from Mat King. There’s a phenomenal poker game sequence and he really does well giving the hotel a personality.

There’s a charming finish and a surprising development in Cummings’s lessons—it starts with her picking out her preferred gun for her adventurer career; plus Miriam Margoyles is around quite a bit, including some wonderfully comic moments.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e05 – Death & Hysteria

Even for an episode dealing with institutionalized misogyny, which are often the heaviest “Miss Fisher’s,” Death & Hysteria is close to the heaviest because it’s about a group of women being persecuted and threatened with forced hysterectomies for… enjoying orgasms. Ysabelle Dean’s script never gives a full exposition dump—in fact, the foreshadowing to what’s going on is just an expression from Tammy Macintosh—but once it’s clear what’s actually going on, the whole episode changes gears quite a bit.

It starts with Essie Davis very suspicious of doctors Philip Quast and Damon Gameau, who have set up in Miriam Margolyes’s house and turned it into a sanitarium for women suffering “female hysteria.” Margolyes—Davis’s aunt and one of the show’s most successful recurring characters—is loaning it to them following Quast’s successful care of her son, who’s recently passed away. We met the son in an episode first season. It’s real sad, particularly since we find out about it three weeks or so after his death; we don’t get to see Davis’s mourning, for instance. Instead, she’s just suspicious Quast is taking advantage.

Quast’s immediately suspicious because he and sidekick Gameau don’t charge any fees—they only take donations from their patients, who are exclusively wealthy women. More, once one of the patients dies, it turns out they’re also really big into getting estates left to them. For various reasons, no one is being forthcoming in the investigation—Quast and Gameau immediately lawyer up (a perfectly icky Gareth Reeves)—and Nathan Page’s breaking in a new constable, Henry Hammersla, who screws up the investigative team.

Hammersla believes women are inferior to men and doesn’t think Page ought to be listening to Davis, much less telling him to work with Ashleigh Cummings (Hugo Johnston-Burt doesn’t appear this episode, off somewhere fishing and trying to figure out his life).

It’s a complicated mystery, with lots of unsettling historical details about the “medical” treatment of women in 1920s Australia, high society or not.

The best part of the episode is Margolyes and her mourning arc. The show may’ve skipped the straight drama but integrates its aftermath quite well here, also giving Travis McMahon some to do. Davis had McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe helping out Margoyles and there’s some wonderful stuff with McMahon and Margoyles.

There’s also a fantastic moment when Macintosh embarrasses Page for Davis’s benefit. The episode ends positive but it’s a heck of a trip getting there.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e01 – Death Defying Feats

“Miss Fisher’s” season three premiered almost a year and a half after the second season concluded, so the opening run-through—confirming returning cast members and breaking the show’s usual murder sans Miss Fisher intro—makes sense. Ashleigh Cummings is at a magic show with Travis McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe, Essie Davis is getting ready for her dinner date with Nathan Page; everything is as it should be.

Until Pip Miller (who isn’t Jon Voight but looks enough like him I thought they’d “scored” Voight as a guest star) shows up at Davis’s door and she cancels plans with Page… and when the guillotine act at the magic show results in an actual decapitation. Then everyone’s evening is ruined.

Davis and Page meet at the magic show and Page is in a bad mood because of the stood-up dinner date, which is going to be his subplot through most of the episode (at least until we find out more of the story with Miller, who’s the magic show’s new investor). But he’s glad to have Davis along, as she used to perform in magic shows and knows how the tricks work. So they can ascertain quickly the guillotine was tampered with and the magician’s assistant murdered.

Grant Piro’s the magician; he was also engaged to the victim. Other suspicious characters around the show are prop guy André de Vanny, contortionist Eloise Mignon (who’s gets a fantastic sequence), and Kate Mulvany. Mulvany’s father used to own the magic show and she’s been teaching de Vanny tricks, which suggests they might be trying to get the show back (to Davis and Page). But Mignon and de Vanny have something else going on too. So lots of suspects and entertaining ones.

Plus there’s Page being very jealous of de Vanny, Cummings taking her investigating up a notch—to the point beau Hugo Johnstone-Burt has to finally take notice of it and appreciate it—and then a fantastically tense conclusion.

Tammy Macintosh makes a couple appearances—she’s now the coroner, which is a great way to keep her around—and Miriam Margolyes, who’s also got history with Miller, is around. It’s a very fun, very steady episode, with some great twists and turns, both in the mystery and the subplots.

Though it really doesn’t seem like Johnstone-Burt and Cummings’s engagement has made much progress in the sixteen months since their last appearance… ditto Page and Davis, but with the latter it’s part of the charm, with the former… you just wish Johnstone-Burt would get his Protestant head out of his ass.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e13 – Murder Under the Mistletoe

Murder Under the Mistletoe is the “Miss Fisher’s” Christmas (in July) special I obviously needed but didn’t know I needed. The episode opens with Essie Davis taking the girls—Ashleigh Cummings, Miriam Margolyes, Tammy Macintosh—to a ski lodge; Southern Hemisphere, snowy summers. But when they get there, of course there’s a murder—people are finally giving Davis crap for finding murder wherever she goes—and then they get snowed in. So everyone’s trapped up there with a killer.

Lots of great suspects—Simon Burke, Greg Saunders, George Shevtsov, Alicia Gardiner, Sylvie de Crespigny. There’s also teenager Emily Milledge, who proves you can be Goth in the 1920s. There’s a big backstory—there was a mine collapse in 1919 and it killed a bunch of the workers; widow de Crespigny married mine co-manager Burke; who does he co-manage the mine with—Margolyes. There’s a lot of good Margolyes stuff this episode. Anyway… Milledge is de Crespigny’s daughter.

There are secrets and flashbacks and Ruby Rees coming home from school early and having to hang out with the boys (Richard Bligh, Travis McMahon, and Anthony J. Sharpe, which is adorable). Plus Macintosh gets a bunch to do and not just doctor stuff.

Great direction from Tony Tilse, really fun script from Elizabeth Coleman.

Nathan Page and Hugo Johnstone-Burt brave the snow storm to get to the lodge and assist in the investigation, but the episode focuses on the multiple suspects and the entire cast being in grave danger. There are numerous murders throughout, including one with a complicated Rube Goldberg setup to get the job done.

Really good villain.

Great postscript with the titular mistletoe figuring in.

It’s a perfect Christmas special.

Also—there’s a John Noble cameo; he plays Margoyles’s since deceased husband in the flashback scenes. It’s very cute to see Margoyles opposite a husband.

Oh, and Cummings—she’s doing the full investigating again. “Miss Fisher’s” season two—with this episode as its victory lap—did a lot of character development on Cummings. Did a little on everyone else, but a lot on her and rarely spotlighted it, just let it happen. Very nicely done indeed.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e12 – Unnatural Habits

The episode opens with Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Ashleigh Cummings on their day off, Johnstone-Burt in his civvies somehow clashing with Cummings in her regular clothes; they’re fishing and dreaming of their honeymoon.

Rude awakening when they discover a dead body in the water. Even ruder awakening when it turns out to be the latest in a series of dead girls who worked at a Catholic convent’s laundry. Somehow the convent’s abusive treatment of the girls, which horrifies touring Essie Davis and Nathan Page—the show takes a deep stab at Catholic hypocrisy (well, some of them)—but then it manages to get even worse as we slowly find out what’s happening to the girls and who’s doing it to them.

But running up against the Church means Page’s ex-father-in-law and boss Neil Melville gets involved, especially since he’s just gotten a promotion; Melville bans Davis from investigating and reassigns Page.

Also back this episode are Page’s ex-wife, Dee Smart, who’s openly hostile to Davis at this point, and her cousin fiancé Daniel Frederiksen. Miriam Margolyes is around too—turns out her cook was one of the missing girls—and has some great scenes with current girl-in-crisis Alice Cavanagh. Very nice work from Margolyes this episode. Shayne Francis and Sally-Anne Upton are excellent as the meanest laundry bosses.

There’s eventually a big action sequence where Davis and her sidekicks arm up—turns out butler Richard Bligh has been assembling an arsenal for just such an occasional—and try to save the day while Melville has the cops dillydallying in fear of upsetting the Church.

All the outstanding story threads from the season get resolved here and the episode ends on quite the tease. Writer Ysabelle Dean does a good job fitting in a bunch of content but it some of it is still very rushed. The investigation leads Davis all over the place, from the laundry to high society to the docks and so on. Nice direction from Tony Tilse, who’s really able to ratchet up the tension in that big action finale.

One of the two main villains—motivated by pure greed—doesn’t get the best performance, while the other one gets a phenomenal one. Though maybe the suspicious behavior is less obvious when the solution is confirmed instead of suspected….

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e03 – Dead Man’s Chest

Last season, “Miss Fisher’s” went out of its way not to have detective Essie Davis happen into mysteries solely because she’s a rich White lady in the 1920s. Though… I mean, it sort of did. But this episode makes no attempt to contrive a reason to get Davis involved in the Julia Blake’s mystery. Davis and her household—aunt Miriam Margolyes, companion Ashleigh Cummings, ward Ruby Rees—are going to the beach on holiday. When they get there, Blake’s household—where they’re staying—is in abject disarray. The servants have disappeared, leaving kitchen boy or whatever Reef Ireland to manage the whole house.

So, of course Davis brings in Richard Bligh to whip things up into shape because Stately Fisher Manor isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. But even though the mystery conclusion—involving stolen coins—and its villain aren’t the best, it’s a great episode. It’s a bunch of fun watching Davis butt heads with yokel copper Tony Rickards—great moment after Davis brings in Nathan Page (and Hugo Johnstone-Burt, which makes for a cute scene or two for he and Cummings) and Blake asks Davis to bring her handsome friend around (meaning Page) and Davis is momentarily confused. It’s extremely charming.

The whole episode, as it concerns Page and Davis, is extremely charming. They investigate the case together, sneaking around, never particularly concerned because they’re old hats at the mystery thing by now and just enjoying themselves. It’s like a working holiday. Very cute.

Davis gets a good showdown with the villain too, though there are a confusing amount of suspects.

Excellent, unexpected arc for Margolyes, which figures in to some of the mystery resolve, and Rees is adorable making eyes at Ireland. Also adorable is when Cummings has to tell Davis to chaperone her. Dan Wyllie plays Blake’s son, who’s a potential Phryne Fellow for a while… even though he’s still Perry Heslop.

Oh, and Travis McMahon gets a fantastic bit as a drunk. Bootlegging figures into it all too. And temperance movements. It’s a whole bunch of plot, but Ken Cameron’s direction moves through it rather well.

Delightful episode… maybe, given the resolution and the stakes, the most delightful “Miss Fisher’s” to date.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e02 – Death Comes Knocking

If this episode of “Miss Fisher’s” doesn’t have the highest body, it definitely feels like it has the highest. People get killed off throughout the runtime—and before it, actually, in flashback. The episode opens with a séance, which is automatically awesome just thinking about Essie Davis going off about séances. It’s almost a surprise she’s participating, but it turns out she’s hosting the medium (Julie Forsyth) at Aunt Prudence’s request. Everyone, including me, is surprised to discover Aunt Prudence (Miriam Margolyes) is into the spiritualist stuff.

Margolyes wants the psychic to help Teague Rook get over his World War I PTSD; Rook is Margoyles’s died in the war godson Billy Smedley’s best friend, who also carried dying Smedley off the field at the Somme. Rook is now married to Kate Atkinson, who’s Smedley’s widow, and even has his valet, John McTernan. Margoyles wants Rook to get an official commendation before he dies; the mustard gas just took a while to finally get him. Except Rook doesn’t think he deserves it. He thinks he shot Smedley, not saved him. But he can’t remember.

Hence psychic Forsyth.

Compared to the war veteran stuff—because even though it doesn’t come up every episode, the main and supporting cast of “Miss Fisher’s” are all veterans. Davis, Nathan Page, Travis McMahon, so almost half the regular cast. And this time there are the guest starring veterans: Rook, Jonny Pasvolsky as Forsyth’s manager, Nicholas Brien as a former stretcher-bearer. The Great War looms over these characters, haunting them all in different ways. It’s very nicely done by writer Ysabelle Dean and director Ken Cameron this episode. Davis’s performance in particular is fantastic.

Because once the first body drops, Davis and Page find themselves having to solve the battlefield mystery and figuring out how it relates to the present day murder and then the second one.

Along the way, Davis has time for her first Phryne Fellow of the season, Pasvolsky, who proves quite soulful once Davis convinces him of the “sanctity of the boudoir.” Good performances this episode from McMahon—who still doesn’t like conscientious objectors, which gets in the way of his investigating on Davis’s behalf—and then Rook. Rook does rather well.

There’s also a good combination of scares and laughs for Ashleigh Cummings, who finds the whole séance business disturbingly un-Catholic, as well as some wonderful scenes with Page and Davis. The show’s very intentionally toying with their chemistry at this point, rather delightfully.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e13 – King Memses’ Curse

I’m a fan of this season finale—and season resolver—and would be even if it didn’t (unintentionally?) follow a bunch of the same narrative beats as Halloween H20. No spoilers. But… it’s H20.

After the pre-title murder—a gruesome but not gory one—the action picks up the next morning after last episode. Phryne (Essie Davis) is freaking out trying to keep ward Ruby Rees safe—enlisting the taxi drivers as bodyguards again, giving them a third chance after they botched the first two—and heads off to investigate a seemingly planted clue.

At the corresponding address (an antique shop), she and Ashleigh Cummings discover the pre-title body (with some gore this time) and get the coppers involved. Except Nathan Page just wants Davis at home staying safe, so when Davis finds another clue—a photography of the suspect and victim—she has to follow-up.

Davis’s investigation takes her to egyptologist Matt Day (Brice from Muriel’s!) while Page and Hugo Johnstone-Burt interview Cassandra Magrath, who was a kid when she escaped the villain. None of the others were so lucky. The details Magrath gives about her abduction and Day’s details about mummification run parallel, particularly when it comes to a paralyzing serum.

A paralyzing serum the villain has unleashed on Stately Fisher Manor so they can come in and grab Rees, needing her to fill the last open spot for whatever evil they’ve got planned.

It’s then a race against time for Davis, Cummings, and Page, with Davis charging ahead without concern for her personal safety. Her behavior pushes Page to the limit and he has her locked up, taking it upon himself to move forward with the case.

The resolution is incredibly dramatic, incredibly tense. Davis is outstanding, ditto Page. And obviously Daina Reid directed it; she’s so good with the tension. So good.

The postscript brings back all the favorite recurring characters—Miriam Margolyes, Tammy Macintosh—and provides a very nice bookend to the pilot, showcasing Davis’s character development over the season, as well as her presence’s effect.

Nicole Nabout’s really good as a nun who figures in and, as usual, it’s fun to get to see Davis face off with the Catholic Church. But not Nabout, rather priest Dennis Coard. The Deb Cox and Elizabeth Coleman script manages to maintain some humor despite dire circumstances. Oh, and Magrath’s excellent.

It’s one heck of a finish.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e12 – Murder in the Dark

It’s truly amazing what they’re able to get away with this episode in terms of red herrings, shoehorned subplots, shock tactics, exploitative tension, and so on. Director Daina Reid and writer Ysabelle Dean put everyone through the ringer—with a couple really obvious questions left open at the end—and grinds them flat.

The main plot itself is a bait and switch, starting with a murder at Miriam Margolyes’s estate. She’s lead Essie Davis’s aunt; Davis and sidekick Ashleigh Cummings are packing to go to a party at Margolyes’s—a costumed engagement party for Margoyles’s son, Felix Williamson—when Davis gets a call from her. Their planned lunch is off, but come anyway, there’s been a murder.

Davis calls the cops, who arrive just after she gets there and we’ve met Williamson, who isn’t exactly suspicious but isn’t exactly not. Then we meet his fiancée, Kate Jenkinson, who’s performatively risqué enough to shock Hugo Johnstone-Burt but not Nathan Page (who’s preoccupied with his divorce proceedings, information he only shares reluctantly and never, I don’t think, with Davis)—before getting to victim’s father, Ken Radley. Radley goes from being grieving parent to number one suspect rather quickly, with the episode taking a break to introduce John Lloyd Fillingham as Margolyes’s other son, who’s developmentally disabled.

Except we’ve already met Fillingham… he discovered the body and Margolyes covered it up.

Throw in a subplot about Davis bringing her household over to save the engagement party, complete with hash fudge, Margoyles flipping out over the communist cab drivers, and Ruby Rees discovering—by fault of the same name—Fillingham’s still traumatized over Davis’s sister’s disappearance years before.

Now, the episode’s so effective, it’s able to get over them seemingly contradicting the information we got about the sister’s disappearance last episode. Fillingham wasn’t just there as a kid, he also says the man who took the sister is back and he killed the victim.

Distracted Page chalks it up to Fillingham’s impairment while Davis starts freaking out thinking Nicholas Bell is after her family… while Cummings and Johnstone-Burt actually do the work and save the day.

If only they were a few moments sooner….

It’s a phenomenally paced episode. The last ten minutes increase the tension second-to-second. You just want the episode to end, even on a dreadful resolution or enraging cliffhanger, but to just stop and give you a break. It’s great.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e10 – Death by Miss Adventure

It’s hard to know where this episode goes “wrong.” It’s not a bad episode, but it’s not a great one either. It’s nowhere near as good as the last, whatever, five. And it’s co-written by Liz Doran, who adapted one of those previous excellent ones. So maybe it’s the source novel not just being that good? Or co-writer Chris Corbett fizzled?

Because it kind of should be an Essie Davis and best friend Tammy Macintosh episode, but isn’t. Even though the main plot involves shitbag industrialist Andrew Blackman threatening to out Macintosh for not being nice enough to him and expecting him to take his injections for his heart problem. He’s got proof she’s been flirting with the girls who work in his factory or something. The episode needs to treat Macintosh as a reluctantly viable suspect for about eight minutes and it goes through a lot of hoops to get there, plus some logic contortions, which ring hollow when it comes to Davis and Macintosh.

The best parts of the episode involve Ashleigh Cummings working undercover in the factory trying to figure out exactly what Blackman and sister Alison Whyte are doing. There are secret ledgers, extra shifts, and fatal factory floor accidents.

In addition to blowing the chance on the Davis and Macintosh stuff, the episode also wastes Miriam Margolyes, which seems sinful.

Davis’s principal subplot is nemesis Nicholas Bell writing to her from prison and offering to tell her what happened to her sister (who Bell’s convicted of killing but without the body found) in return for his freedom.

It feels like treading water on the plot line, frenetically so, with a bunch of the supporting cast involved with it just to scale it up. Nathan Page even gets involved with it at the end, as sort of an emphasizing device.

When the whole time it should’ve been spent with Davis and Macintosh.

The Cummings stuff makes up for it, especially Davis’s concern for her as well as beau Hugo Johnstone-Burt not being able to keep his cool once he discovers what she’s up to.

Just ought to be better.

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