Maigret, ITV | reviews, news & interviews
Soporific reinvention of Georges Simenon's veteran detective
If you were expecting Rowan Atkinson to say "bibble" or make those Mr Bean gurgling noises, you came to the wrong classic detective drama. To play George Simenon's timeless French detective in a story subtitled "Maigret Sets a Trap", a melancholy, interiorised Atkinson spent most of his time sitting and thinking. Despite the mumsy ministrations of Mme Maigret (alias Lucy Cohu), he relied mostly on his pipe for company as he struggled to unmask a serial killer of women in Montmartre.
It was a determined effort by the star to set aside all his familiar comic tricks and tics, and this was a performance that owed nothing to either M Hulot or Inspector Clouseau. Unfortunately, it was difficult to see if it owed anything to anyone at all, since Atkinson (and Stewart Harcourt's script) merely left us to invent our own theories about how he might have become such a reticent and hangdog character. If he hadn't taken a peek at Michael Lonsdale's detective Claude Lebel in Fred Zinnemann's 1973 Day of the Jackal movie, another lugubrious French sleuth who relied on doggedness and attention to detail to get results, he should have done. (M & Mme Maigret pictured below)
Evidently having decided that dynamic action scenes and lurid shootouts (or even murders) would not be gratuitously shoehorned into the narrative, the production team had their work cut out to fill a two-hour slot. Frustratingly, the opening credits, with their images of Parisian landmarks, gendarmes, pavement cafes and metro stations evoking the 1955 setting, were the most atmospheric part of the whole production. As soon as the real action began, we were in the living room of Dennis and Georgette Lecoin and their young children. The actors were speaking routine colloquial TV-drama English, and it felt as if we'd been dropped into the set of Call the Midwife by mistake.
Such authentic Frenchness as there was came via newspaper headlines, announcing the murders or complaining that Maigret still hadn't arrested anybody, with an English translation being typed across the screen. It was entirely illogical that the characters should read newspapers in French yet speak to each in English, but ITV aren't about to contemplate getting their British stars to speak French dialogue with English subtitles in a prime 9pm slot, despite all the useful practice viewers have gained from watching Scandi noir or French thrillers Spin and Spiral.
The result was that the piece, with its period cars, clothes and furnishings, was perfectly agreeable to look at (even though the supposedly Parisian locations were actually in Budapest), but though David Dawson gave us a respectably weird and screwed-up perp, the viewer was constantly left waiting for more stuff to happen. The murders of the unfortunate women were reported rather than enacted, Maigret's cerebral and hands-off approach to detective work meant that he was the very opposite of a whirlwind of activity, and while there was a bit of a twist in the tale, the plotting felt badly starved of invention compared to shows like Foyle's War or even Poirot. When the impatient interior minister ordered Maigret to be taken off the case, it was difficult not to see his point. ITV have another one of these Maigrets in the can. Better luck next time?
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