We had our first taste of Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret last night, in the feature-length story Sets A Trap. When Atkinson was first announced to play Georges Simenon’s classic early 20th century Parisian detective it divided opinion – surely someone who has made a living from comic characters couldn’t pull off the deadpan Maigret? Fans of classic crime fiction are very strong in their opinions, but for the most part, Atkinson seemed to go down well. While it wasn’t perfect, Sets A Trap was an entertaining enough couple of hours. But there has been a question nagging at me since I saw it a few weeks ago.
As I mentioned, fans of classic crime fiction are very particular about who plays their favourite characters and Simenon’s Maigret is up there with Christie’s Marple or Poirot in terms of loyal followers.
As our reviewer – Past Offence’s Rich Westwood – said this:
His Maigret is taciturn. He doesn’t open his mouth until 10 minutes into the episode, rarely speaks more than a line at a time and that very softly. Atkinson has definitely subdued his comic side to play the Chief Inspector.
Rich wasn’t kidding – throughout Sets A Trap, Atkinson played Maigret with Sisyphean stoicism. As Rich mentioned it took a full 10 minutes for Maigret to say a word, and when he did he did so with a quiet, pained mumble.
Aside from some seriously signposted plot details, this was my main problem with Maigret – that he was so dour it was difficult to get behind him and root for him to solve the case. It was obvious that he was obsessed with finding a killer who was constantly evading him and his team, but instead of feeling emotionally connected to him, I felt distanced by his taciturn personality.
We live in an age where heroes in our procedurals are flawed, messed-up but also extremely expressive. From Sarah Lund and Saga Norén to Catherine Cawood and even George Gently, 21st century lead characters confound as much as they enchant.
And I felt that was what was missing from Maigret – he was such a blank canvas that he wasn’t just difficult to read but difficult to engage with. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for classic crime characters or nuance in their portrayals on our televisions any more – there are, for sure – but I just thought Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret was difficult to penetrate. In many ways, I feel sorry for Atkinson – his hiring was from so far left of field that everyone will find fault somewhere along the line.
I’m no expert on classic crime fiction, so do let me know what you think:
For our review of Maigret: Sets A Trap, go here