Miss Phryne Fisher is the Roaring Twenties bombshell that we all dream of being, paired with immaculate feminist flair. She is the titular character on the Aussie show Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, serving up some serious sass as a lady detective in 1920’s Melbourne, solving crimes and breaking hearts. The key to Phryne’s sharp-tongued character is that she does not let the times hold her back. The audience loves her for it. She exerts her sexuality without apology and outsmarts all in her male-dominated profession. She is a true breath of fresh air for my newest Netflix binge.
The series opens with Phryne returning to Melbourne after an extended stay abroad. Right from the introductory scenes, I was engulfed in the panache of The Great Gatsby-esque setting and costume. We are introduced to the glamourous life of Phryne Fisher and meet her lifelong pal, the dapper Elizabeth Macmillan (“Mac”), a doctor at the women’s hospital. One of the most refreshing things about Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is that both genders stay away from the regular tropes of the olden days, when men completely dismissed women and those women hated them for it. Neither Phryne nor Mac dare judge a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock or homeless, though in those days it would seem hard not to. They never gawk over men or speak ill of the males in their lives. Instead, this show’s universe portrays both genders in a less hypocritical light. Yes, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (the handsome detective likely created to provide witty banter scenes and will-they-won’t-they scenarios) and his colleagues may think Phryne is not suited for the rough-and-tumble detective profession, but he never berates or undermines her (only villains come close to that). Phryne even works on solving crimes with two men she meets in the first episode, Bert and Cec, and they never doubt her leadership.
Not only do the leading men support the strong women of the series, surprising in an era not known for male feminists, but the leading ladies are utterly honorable. Phryne is progressive and open minded, caring and strong. When Mac comes out to her in the 10th episode, she barely bats an eye and gives her friend a loving hug despite what the others around them think of homosexuality. We find out right away that Phryne has a soft spot for young girls in need when she confronts a man who is thought to have killed her little sister when they were children. These meetings are the only things that ever crack Miss Fisher’s composed demeanor, which makes her character even more well-rounded.
Throughout the first season, Phryne takes in a number of young ladies and supports them in her own home. She does not ask questions; she just listens and guides girls who need a motherly figure in their lives. Dot, a sheepish young maid we meet in the first episode, is accused of stealing from the family she works for. In reality, she was trying to cover up the sexual abuse of young girls in that household, where the first murder Phryne investigates takes place. Leave it to Phryne to see past the accusations immediately and ask Dot to live and work with her. Though Dot still serves as a trusty maid, she is much more than that to Phryne. She comes out of her shell and becomes more confident as Phryne whisks her away to solve crime and feel fabulous while doing it.
I love that Phryne is a feminist through and through. Fierce support of exploited female factory workers? Got it. Backlash for doctors illegally performing abortions? Yup. Refuge for homeless or misguided girls? We already know she provides that. Phryne has no patience for stifling social conventions of her time and she pursues justice for women who cannot do so for themselves. Best of all, she pushes through each injustice in the most ravishing attire I have ever laid my eyes on. She never lets her expensive furs or intricately beaded dresses hold her back from scaling a fire escape or helping a random bloodied stranger. Oh, and she completes her ensemble with a necessary pearl-handled pistol, because of course she does. Miss Fisher wears what she wants, where she wants, doing whatever she wants. No apologies.
She also never apologizes for her sexuality. Throughout the first season, Phryne has a couple of sexual partners, one night flings, and even skinny dipping pals. She does not make any promises to suitors, she lays her cards out on the table, and she is sexually liberated. She does exert her sexuality while on a case, but never in a way that makes her appear stupid or like an airhead. She is smart and sexual; a pair of traits we rarely see in a singular heroine television character.
Miss Phryne Fisher is a spectacular female protagonist that appeals to the feminist in me in every possible way. She works in a male dominated field and excels in every case. She carries herself with confidence, with no apologies for her lavish lifestyle or her sexuality, and men (and women!) respect her. All hail Miss Fisher, the lovely flapper feminist we all wish we could be!