NB: SPOILERS INSIDE
Last year, ITV took the bold step of scheduling Maigret’s Dead Man on Christmas Day. Now, for the fourth Maigret film starring Rowan Atkinson, the channel hasn’t gone for the Christmas Day option, instead giving us a seasonal treat on Christmas Eve. And Maigret In Montmartre is a festive treat indeed.
These new adaptations of Georges Simonen’s work have taken their time to find themselves – the first Maigret plodded somewhat and Atkinson, you felt, was still trying to find himself in the role. In Maigret In Montmartre, it really seems like he’s hitting his stride, and the show does too. It helps that this feature-length episode is set in the back-streets of the seedy Montmartre district, and centres around Club Picratt – a burlesque club teeming with ne’er do wells, a despicable, exploitative nightclub owner, creatures of the night and, of course, glamorous dancers. As a lover of film noir, this setting was right up my alley.
But we started the episode in an apartment, one which exuded – including the owner – faded glamour. The Countess, as she was called, was in a morphine reverie; slouched in a Lille armchair, her silk negligee open to reveal needle marks on her thigh. The Countess wasn’t long for this world, but it wasn’t the drugs that did for her – it was a murderer.
Also not long for this world was a dancer at Club Picratt; a husky blonde who went by the name of Arlette. During her performance, she saw something – or someone – in one of the booths that provoked her to run to Quai des Orfevres in a distressed state, proclaiming that she had overheard someone saying in the club that they were going to kill The Countess. She was first met by a cynical Janvier (no change there, then), and then comforted by Maigret (no change there, then), and when she awoke from a nap on the bench in the corridor, she screamed, “Oscar, Oscar!”
Maigret’s antenna was up – he knew something was up here – and promptly gave Arlette his card just in case. It didn’t save her, because by morning she was dead.
As ever, Maigret took Arlette’s death personally – he should have listened to her more intently; he should have insisted on an escort to take her home. Once again – like all Maigret cases, certainly the television adaptations so far – have a personal element that makes Maigret invest so heavily in each case. Here, it was guilt – the guilt of letting Arlette go into the night.
And there proceeded the usual procedural elements – nothing flash; one thing leading to another and one character’s history merging with another’s. Initially, we were set up to believe that the abusive, exploitative shyster who ran Club Picratt was the number-one suspect, but soon Maigret and his team found that The Countess and Arlette’s murders were linked, which opened whole new lines of inquiry. We then found out that Arlette had had a chequered history, as had The Countess – both had been touched by tragedy and both had been brought together via a hotel in Nice, where they had both been manipulated by the man in the hat, Oscar, who was now in Paris. He had obviously found them both.
One thing that was interesting about this episode was that to catch the killer Maigret had to initiate one of his trademark traps, but this time it didn’t quite work – this plunged our titular lead into a control-less situation. Another interesting thing? We had known whodunit quite early – Oscar – so it the episode was an exercise in show and tell, reveal and finding out the motivation behind his crimes. It felt like Maigret, too, was forced into spending time at the club, which provided a juxtaposition between his usual quiet, straight-laced demeanour and the debauchery and the buzz of neon inside. The dancers there were so used to customers being a particular kind of lech, but Maigret was showing them something they hadn’t seen before: genuine compassion. There was than a whiff of the male as the protector and the rescuer – a very, old-school patriarchal attitude (man saves broken woman etc) – in these scenes, but thankfully there were dimensions of the dancers’ characters that shone through.
So it was typical Maigret, with a few different twists. Not necessarily twists in the plot (come on, this is Maigret we’re talking about) but different approaches to telling the story. There were side strands (Ms Maigret’s fast-disappearing patience with her husband’s absence from home life, Maigret and Janvier’s testy relationship), but what I liked about this episode was the atmosphere – Montmartre felt seedy and exciting, exerting an irresistible allure to those lost souls running from something and who don’t want to be found, and who see in the bright lights a chance to make it, and to reborn. But in those bright lights lay exploiters, and pasts that won’t stay buried for long.
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