Was Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret too deadpan?

ITV has commenced filming Maigret Sets A Trap one of two stand-alone dramatic films featuring the legendary French fictional detective Jules Maigret, played by Rowan Atkinson. This image is the copyright of ITV and must be used in relation to Maigret. Photographer John Rogers.
(c) Photographer John Rogers.

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:

Paul Hirons

For our review of Maigret: Sets A Trap, go here

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Drake Bradman says:

    Another factor here may be that most of us have known Mr. Atkinson as Mr. Bean. So, that perception might also affect how we receive him as Maigret. Anyways, kudos to the actor who took a big risk in accepting this role. Hopefully, he will pull off better performances in the upcoming episodes. May be Stephen Fry was a better choice for the lead role?!!


  2. I think there was a bit of deadpannery. Sometimes it seemed like he was photo shopped into scenes, not making eye contact with the other actors. At least in the beginning. I also think the music was a bit campy. It was entertaining though and I will be sure to watch more episodes to see if the little blips get worked out.


  3. Carol thompson says:

    Just give rowan a chance i thought he was good and i enjoyed it ofcourse critics always tear a star apart on their fist night leave him alone and let us see for ourselves how good he can be you might be pleasantly surprised as is what usually happens carol thompson


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Thanks Carol, I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes with it.


  4. Bring back Atkinson qua Maigret!! His four episodes are cinema gold! How brexitly shortsighted is ITV? They have the vision of a Wombat in a burrow!


  5. Eva Leisups says:

    I thought it was a terrific series… and at the end of each episode there was always a redemptive solution to the crime.Loved, loved loved it….. PLEASE DO MORE EPISODES !!!!


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