Warning: This article contains spoilers for Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.
The world of Miss Fisher is filled with many rich character dynamics, but the relationship between Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) and Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) has always been at the heart of the period mystery drama. Three seasons of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries chronicled their ever-burgeoning romance, as they slowly fell in love over various murdered bodies (it’s more romantic than it sounds). The dynamic is also at the heart of Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, the feature film continuation of Phryne’s story, which sees Jack pulled back into Phryne’s orbit after some time apart.
“His heart was already half-broken,” says Page of where we find Jack when The Crypt of Tears begins. Phryne flew away at the end of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, leaving Jack behind in Melbourne, which strained the “string between them,” that Page sees as an integral element of their dynamic: “Whatever dance they do, that string is the connective tissue.”
When Crypt of Tears picks up, Phryne is in Jerusalem, breaking a young Bedouin girl, Shirin (Izabella Yena), out of prison. When Phryne is presumed dead in the effort, Jack travels to London to attend her funeral, only to find it crashed by Phryne herself—Sherlock Holmes-style.
“It’s not an easy place to start,” says Page of how Jack feels about Phryne following the reveal that she is not, in fact, dead. “Because, you know, when all the other characters are sort of celebrating, I’m not sure if he can. I’m not sure if he could. It’s too easy to make that decision as an actor. It’s too easy to make that decision as a character and to go, ‘Oh my God, you’re alive, you’re fine.’ There’s got to be so much more turmoil, or tumult, to this reconnection, of that string that they always had to give up.”
Jack is understandably upset that he was left to think that the woman he loves was dead for so long (at least the length of the journey from Melbourne to London in 1929), but Crypt of Tears only leaves him so much time to indulge in that complex emotional reaction. Phryne and Jack are quickly pulled into the mystery of the massacre of Shirin’s village when she was just a girl—a mystery that involves an ancient tomb and a priceless treasure.
Phryne has empathy for Jack’s feelings, as she always does, but she’s also not going to apologize for something that was not here fault. (She had not been aware that her loved ones thought she was dead.) She’s happy to see Jack, but she is not going to abandon Shirin and the mystery of her village to assuage his concern that something else might happen to her. That is never how their dynamic has worked.
“You want Jack to be an attractive man who’s strong and capable and heroic and kind of step in and help,” says Davis of the dynamic, “but you also want to go, ‘Hold on a minute. The reason he likes Phryne and the reason Phryne likes him is that she’s completely independent.'”
“I guess the great mistake could be to play him too lightly or whatever and emasculate him,” reflects Page of this balance. “If he’s played as emasculated, she’s not as strong. He has to be strong in order for her to be super strong. And I think that equation works. Well, I think it works really well. That’s just how it works in my head, is that he’s got to be a strong man and it just makes her stronger.”
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries always did an impressive job of maintaining and building the sexual and romantic tension between Jack and Phryne while still maintaining Phryne’s independence, which is so important to her and integral to her character.
“For me personally, from the writing side of it,” says producer Deb Cox, who also wrote the script of Crypt of Tears, “I never tire of their dance around each other because it’s always about the same thing and it’s about something that’s perennially relevant, which is how you negotiate personal freedoms in a relationship. And Phryne will not sell out.”
While Cox sees Phryne as having established an important boundary that she is good about sticking to, the writer sees more potential for change when it comes to Jack’s character.
“But [with] Jack, I think that we also want movement,” says Cox. “You want to see something in the movie that you haven’t seen in the series. And so I think Jack realizing the depths of his personal commitment to her was important and also having some shift, some very tiny shift.”
By the end of Crypt of Tears, Jack has seemingly forgiven Phryne for leaving him behind in Melbourne. The film ends with them riding off together on camel-back, poised for another adventure, as equals.
“We know what happens at the end of the movie is progress for them,” says Cox. “And small progress in terms of the contemporary world, but not for 1929. But it still is about moving slightly in her direction of wanting, allowing her to be completely free. You know and respecting that but still being prepared to give everything to her.”
“She’s doing it for herself,” says Davis. “She’s not only a fabulous woman, she’s a fabulous, capable woman who, no matter what pickle she gets into, occasionally needs help, but, mostly, will do everything in her power to get herself out of her own fixes.”
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, along with all three seasons of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, is now available to stream on Acorn TV.