Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries Continues a Tradition of Feminist Murder Mystery

We talked to Miss Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries' Geraldine Hakewill about becoming the next Miss Fisher in the popular franchise.

The world of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries expands with Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, a spin-off series that proves that, while Essie Davis’ Phyrne Fisher is a force of nature entirely her own, this feminist murder mystery period formula is more powerful than even its charismatic original leading lady.

Stepping into Davis’ very fashionable shoesis the charismatic Geraldine Hakewill, who plays Peregrine Fisher, Phyrne’s neice in Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, set in Melbourne, Australia in the 1960s. Like her aunt, Peregrine is unapologetically herself, solving mysteries that matter with or without the help of the Melbourne police.

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The spin-off show is great, and has even more of the feminist camaraderie that we saw in the original and that is, unfortunately, underrepresented on TV, despite it being very common in real life. (I find it much more common in literary works—recent examples that come to mind include Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Pir

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acy and Theodora Goss’ The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club—an industry where women tend to be given more opportunity to wield creative power.) 

We talked to Geraldine Hakewill about what it was like to become the new Miss Fisher, why the 1960s setting of Modern Murder Mysteries works so well for today, and why the world needs more hopeful and feminist TV shows like the ones in this franchise.

Den of Geek: Had you watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries before auditioning for the spinoff role?

Geraldine Hakewill: I had watched it before. I’m quite a bit fun of the whole genre, and I’m really into any British period drama. But like I’ve always loved Agatha Christie, and those kinds of stories. Murder mysteries. I love Sherlock Holmes. I just love anything like that. So it was definitely something that I had watched before. And I’ve read some of the books as well, the original series is based on.

So, when that first started, the original series with Essie [Davis], I had just finished drama school. And I remember a friend saying, ‘Oh, you do really great in that show.’ I think I had an audition for a guest role at some point and I didn’t get it. And I was never living in the city where they were shooting it. So it was always difficult to try and get a role on it.

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So, when I knew that it was kind of wrapping up, I was like, ‘Oh, what a shame, I didn’t get to be part of that, because I love that, like anything period I love.’ And I just thought, ‘I know so much about the murder mystery genre. I feel like I’d be good for it.’

And then this happened, which is such a lovely surprise. And just set to, yeah, one of those things where it’s kind of every dream of yours coming true. It was a really wonderful moment getting this role.

Were you able to talk to Essie Davis at all about following in her footsteps?

No. She was super busy when we started shooting. I sent her a little note just saying how much I admire her and I hope that I do her and the Miss Fisher family proud. And, yeah, I just think she’s such a fantastic actress, and I’ve really admired her for a long time. I’ve seen her in lots of theater productions here in Australia.

I just think she makes such interesting choices as an actress, and I have great respect for her, especially after playing this role and realizing how difficult it is, and how effortless she made it. So, yeah, I hope that I get to meet her sometime soon, and we get to kind of compare notes and talk about our experiences with that. But not yet.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the biggest similarities and differences between Peregrine and Phyrne’s characters?

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So Phyrne is, I think, so loved and iconic because she’s so classy and elegant and witty, whilst also being incredibly physically capable. She is really a woman before her time, and sort of embodies, I think, everything that modern women would like to be, as much as she embodies the kind of 1920 goddess. She’s almost like a superhero. She’s more than just a person. Yeah, she’s kind of a force unto herself.

Peregrine is a bit rough around the edges and less fully-formed. She’s still finding herself. She’s a little bit younger and hasn’t found her place in the world when we first meet her. And so she’s still kind of creating herself. And through this process of inheriting her aunt’s things, and then finding out that she was a detective, she discovers this part of herself and is given this legacy that’s much more than just money and a house and the car.

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I think the most important part of it, for her, is realizing that she has inherited these traits that her aunt had as well. And a love for discovering clues and figuring things out, and all the little skills that she’s picked up along the way in her life. She’s done so many different jobs and always kind of been bored by them.

She finally realizes that she has all these life skills and she might not be highly-educated like Phyrne was, but she’s educated in the school of life. And she’s a really good people person and I think she’s very collaborative. And what’s nice to think about this particular series is that she really uses all the people around her to help her solve the mysteries. It’s very much a group effort. I think she’s got her aunt’s curiousness. And I think she almost blossomed into becoming more like Phyrne as the series goes on. 

The way she does things is a bit more like bull in a china shop rather than classy lady. And I think that’s kind of reflective of the time, as well. She’s got this kind of youthful enthusiasm and optimism and the 1960s—especially the early 1960s—had that optimism. And there was a real feeling of youthfulness in politics.

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The miniskirt came into fashion, and it was in an era of optimism and joy, compared to, say, coming out of the Second World War. And I think the 20s sort of had that too. So it’s interesting seeing the parallels that they’ve chosen. The 60s is the next year that they wanted to explore. But, yes, she’s definitely rougher than Phyrne, and maybe a bit less refined in her decision-making. She just kind of throws herself into situations literally or throws herself off a roof.

But I think… I hope that you see the family resemblance, in terms of how she cares about the people in her life, and also her bravery in feminist situations.

Yeah, I like what you were saying about the optimism of those times because that feels a bit different from now too. And I think this feels like a show that is different from a lot of other shows, at least available in America, which are tend to be more pessimistic and dark. So it’s really nice to have someplace you can go that is an optimistic world, if only for a little while.

I think so too. Yeah. Like you said, the world at the moment is pretty uncertain and frightening for a lot of people. And I think we should be frightened. But it is important to have… I mean that’s one of the best things about TV is that you can escape into a world.

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And I think that maybe that’s why people love this sort of genre so much is that, even though something frightening happens, somebody solved it and figure it out. And there’s a great comfort that comes from that. And maybe that’s why people are so obsessed with murder mysteries. There’s always someone there who has some kind of control over the situation who figures it out. And I think that’s a great comfort for people.

But it’s nice to, I think, in this show we also try to explore some social issues that we’re having at the time, but it’s still relevant now. There’s a lot in it about female friendship. And I think Peregrine’s a real feminist character and she doesn’t even realize that she is.

Yeah, definitely. And one of the things that I think is hopeful about this show is how much it champions community, and how she does inherit this community from her aunt. Can you talk about what that’s like for her character, being part of an ensemble?

Well, I think it’s just so much nicer. I mean, as an actor it’s incredibly difficult to just act by yourself, you know? You’re already in relationship to somebody else. So even if you’re in the scene by yourself, you’re always thinking about somebody else, or responding to something has happened with somebody else.

And so I think, as a character, she’s just got so many people to bounce off and there’s so many new relationships in her life that are helping her define who she is, for someone who’s not fully formed. And maybe doesn’t have a clear idea of her skills and what she’s capable of. She’s suddenly got all these people to either guide her and show her what she’s capable of in a loving way. Or to become a kind of nemesis or antagonists that forces her to become more than she thought that she was like Detective Sparrow.

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So that’s really fun to play because you have a different relationship with every character, and it’s been really nice figuring out how Peregrine feels about each person that she comes into contact with. And I think she’s a really open, part of what makes this character so lovely and why she’s good at her job is that she’s good at reading people and so people often talked to her. They’ll tell her things that maybe they wouldn’t tell somebody else, who’s in a police uniform. And I think she reads people really well, and works out how best to communicate with them. So that’s really nice to play.

I love all these little mentions of women’s history, stuff that isn’t necessarily taught in school, or is even part of our public imaginings of history. Were there things that you learned making the show that you didn’t know about women’s history in particular?

Well, some of the facts that said in the show, like, in the very first episode, we hear about the female astronauts. And I thought that was really interesting. But it was more things that I read about like… And I guess these are sort of negative things, but if women were working in public service and they got married, they had to stop working. And I knew that, but I didn’t realize that it was still happening in the 1960s. That wasn’t that long ago. And this is like my mother’s generation, or a little bit earlier. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in terms of that stuff. And I think there’s obviously still a long way to go for a lot of places in the world, and even in the first world.

But yeah, it was really interesting to go, ‘Oh, so you were still very much the kind of un-marriageable entity and that was kind of your goal in life. And then if you got married, you had to stop working.’ And I think we’ve kind of tried to bring that startling into Peregrine’s kind of psyche and that’s part of the tension between her and [Detective] Steed. I think is that they really like each other. He’s a little bit scared of her. And she is a little bit scared of the idea of losing this independence that she’s just found.

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And if she ends up with somebody, then she might not be able to do all the things that she wants to do. And, I think we still probably feel that going into a relationship sometimes, and yeah, I thought that was really interesting. But yes, the fact that that was still happening and it wasn’t that long ago, I was surprised by that.

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But then there were other cool little things that weren’t necessarily do with women, like seeing footage of horse and carts delivering the milk in the morning. And I didn’t realize that they still did that, there were cars that deliver the milk. Little things like that that I just found really fascinating and really beautiful.

Yeah. You have the Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox, two women who created the original Miss Fisher, running the show as well. Can you talk about having them as the creators of the show, and what you think brings audience to their stories?

Yes. Well this is the first time I had done a project where it was helmed by women almost completely. All the writers were women, and the two executive producers. And two of the directors were women, two out of three. So it was really unusual for me, and I was surprised that it was unusual, and that I still thought it was a novelty. And I sort of thought, oh well that’s a shame that I feel like that, but also how wonderful that it is just happening.

But I think those two, Deb and Fiona in particular, are just… They work so hard. And what’s lovely is that they are still coming from such a caring and joyful place. It’s still very much about the story for them. It hasn’t become just about what will make us the most money? Or hey, here’s this great business opportunity.

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I think, obviously, you think like that because you have a business to run. But they just love the characters they create, and they love the stories that they’re telling. And I think that’s why they’ve made such great shows that are so much a part of Australian television landscape, and have really defined storytelling. And, yeah, there’s just a lot of love in the stories that they tell. And I think that means that people respond to them with a lot of love. And, they really try and make things like we talked about earlier, that they do try and make things that make people feel good. 

I really love watching stuff that makes me feel good. Of course you want to be challenged and it’s great when you know… Things that are kind of dark and intense can also make you feel good. But there’s a lot of joy in their work, and yeah, I think that’s really special.

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And also slightly unusual in Australia. We went through a period of really loving our true crime and really dark stories, especially around Animal Kingdom time. When that film came out, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is the kind of story that we tell as Australians.’ That’s true. That was an amazing film, and we can tell those stories really well. And there is this dark parts, these Australian psyche, like there is in America, as well.

But there’s also a lot of amazing and joyful and lovely stories to tell. And I think Deb and Fiona have… That’s what they love watching and that’s what they love making.

Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries is now available to watch on AcornTV.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.