Rowan Atkinson takes on the role of one of the 20th-century’s best-loved fictional detectives
★★★½ ITV, Easter Monday, 28 March, 9pm
ROWAN ATKINSON thought about accepting the role of Chief Inspector Jules Maigret for three months, then turned it down. It’s a big ask to breathe life into one of the most popular fictional cops ever, and even as super-successful a performer as Atkinson had to weigh it up carefully.
‘I read it, thought about it for three months and then decided I didn’t want to do it,’ he says. ‘Which is the kind of thing I often do. Not because I didn’t want to do it but because I wasn’t sure I could do it.’
He was offered the role again a year later. ‘Even then I had to think about it for some time because I had to believe I could play it.’ He admits the idea of playing a TV detective ‘felt like a bit of a cliche’.
Will Maigret succeed for ITV as Poirot did?
So what clinched it? ‘The odd thing about him as a character is he’s not much of a character,’ Atkinson says. ‘He’s fairly bland. He hasn’t got a French accent or a limp or a lisp and he doesn’t love opera. There isn’t a tremendous amount to get hold of in character terms. He’s just an ordinary guy doing a slightly extraordinary job in a quite unpleasant world.
“The thing I thought I could do was his thoughtfulness. That it’s his ruminative, thoughtful and quite compassionate side, I suppose, which is interesting. Because he’s definitely not an egotist, he’s not a performer, he’s not an eccentric, he’s not a weirdo.’
So, how does he do in the role? After all this is a big deal for ITV and would be a terrific new franchise for the network following the conclusion of Poirot.
Does Rowan Atkinson work as Maigret?
I would say he’s fine without being great. Part of the problem is that the pipe-smoking sleuth is, as Atkinson says, a bit bland and low-key. There is also the awkwardness of getting over our expectation that he’s going to pull a face at any moment.
However, the first film of two, Maigret Sets a Trap, is two-hours long, so there is time to get used to him in a straight role. He’s helped by the opener being a pretty good story, set during a Parisian heatwave in 1955 as a serial killer of women terrorises Montmartre.
The detective is under huge pressure from the press and politicians to capture the killer before he can claim a fifth victim. The city (actually Budapest) and period are lovingly recreated, and the production values are high, as you’d expect these days. [Read more…]