A lot of comic performers graduate to serious roles later in their careers, perhaps feeling that advancing years are not appropriate for pratfalls and silliness. Rowan Atkinson though is not especially old and also has a history of gurning his way expressively through comic situations so you can imagine in the past this is exactly the sort of thing he’d spoof. Watching him play a detective in a period drama is odd because every time he walks in the room you expect something funny to happen. Perhaps he’ll light his pipe and it will burst into flames? Maybe he’ll get his long trenchcoat caught in a car door and struggle to excavate himself from it? No or should that be “Non”. In what is a melodramatic production in need of a little light relief there is not a laugh to be had- luckily the results are intriguing enough anyway.
Created by writer George Simenon in the 1930s there have been many film and tv Maigrets including Rupert Davies in the 1960s and Michael Gambon in the 90s. This version is set in the 1950s and sees the detective and his team investigating the discovery of the body of a diamond merchant in a garage belonging to a mysterious Dane and his sister who inhabit a rundown country house near a crossroads. Much of the action takes place either within the house or in the garage opposite, itself the location of some criminal activity. After the initial crime, it’s a fairly standard procedural till a more tense pacier final stretch. The apparently simple plot becomes knottier as the different agendas of various characters come to the fore. If its literary origins occasionally show it is also the sort of drama you want to keep watching unpeeling new layers just when you think you’ve got a handle on the case. As you’d expect the finger of suspicion is pointed far and wide though the last section does manage to pull a surprise albeit a slightly untenable one.
Despite the French locale (though actually filmed in Hungary) the cast are delightfully British with thankfully no attempt made at any sort of French accent though they all keep their French names. It’s sleekly directed by Sarah Harding who mines every nuance for effect delighting in the semi darkness and shadows. To be fair to Rowan Atkinson there is much to admire in his controlled performance and it’s not his fault we're expecting something silly to happen. Also the script allows little insight into his personality or deductive process.
|"I'm Kevin `R` McNally now you know" "Interesting."
Amongst the cast Kevin R McNally stands out as a less polished local detective who rather improbably has been friends with Maigret for years. It’s a bit like Poirot hanging out with Jack Regan! Mia Jexen is impressive as the slippery Else who initially seems more vulnerable than she turns out to be.
The final reveal takes some suspension of disbelief but is presented well enough to sell it to us. However it does underscore the fact that this is a production to be admired from the stalls; it’s hard to imagine these people and events as real which surely a good drama should do. Despite the strong cast and excellent look it feels a little too poised and careful. With even Miss Marple nowadays prone to idiosyncratic episodes, Maigret needs to roughen its smooth edges a little to find a place in our hearts.