MAIGRET - Gerard O'Donovan, The Telegraph

Posted on 28th Mar 2016

As a fan of Georges Simenon’s detective stories, my biggest problem with Maigret (ITV) was always going to be rubber-faced Rowan Atkinson in the role of Paris’s best known detective. Stringy Mr Bean as the burly, pipe-smoking hero of the police judiciaire? Pull the other jambe.

True, there was a gaping hole in ITV’s schedules for a glossy, star-studded, period murder-mystery series along the lines of the exhausted Poirot and Marple franchises. And Atkinson has an undeniable track record in making films with a global (and highly exportable) appeal. But comedians rarely make good detectives. Just think of David Walliams in last year’s excruciating Partners in Crime, the BBC adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence stories.

For those of us who enjoyed beefy Michael Gambon in the role in the Nineties (or indeed Rupert Davies’s Sixties portrayal, which many consider definitive), Atkinson’s less physically imposing, and entirely less hearty, Inspector Maigret took some adjusting to. Seeing him turn up at a bloody murder scene and enquiring “No signs of sexual assault?” simply didn’t feel right.

But Atkinson’s chameleon-like qualities gradually asserted themselves. A combination of middle-age spread and thickened eyebrows gave him a more heavyset and meditative look. Those famously mobile features were seized in seriousness, lips clamped around the iconic pipe. He spoke sparingly, as if every word was weighed in advance. Most of all, his eyes exuded not humour but oceans of watery, world-weary concern.

All of which was too ponderous, at times. But not bad for starters. The settings (with the boulevards and backstreets of Budapest offering a plausible imitation of Fifties Paris) and costumes were sumptuous.

The choice of Maigret Sets a Trap – one of the more action-packed of the novels, in which the master detective is already at the peak of his powers – was a sensible if unadventurous serial-killer debut. The more morally opaque Maigret’s Dead Man, to be shown later this year, should give a little more to chew on.

If this Maigret lacked, ironically, the quality of gentle, knowing humour that brings such lightness to the books, it’s not such a huge problem. With 75 novels and numerous short stories to practise on, Atkinson will have plenty of opportunity to refine his portrayal of this most iconic of characters.

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