Maigret’s Dead Man, Rowan Atkinson, ITV

ROWAN ATKINSON as Maigret. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

He’s back – Rowan Atkinson as Maigret

It’s a Gallic shrug for Rowan Atkinson’s return as the Parisian detective

★★½ ITV, Christmas Day, 9pm

‘TIS THE SEASON to enjoy cosy costume crime. Nothing too bloody or realistic. So while the Beeb is giving us Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution, ITV has another helping of Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret.

This take on Georges Simenon’s creation hardly caused a ripple when it was unveiled to us with Maigret Sets a Trap last Easter. In fact, as I write this, Maigret is currently in last place in our poll of favourite 2016 crime series (see below). However, ITV seem desperate to make this work having finally run out of Poirot’s to make.

 This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

Rough stuff – John Light as baddie Dacourt

There are 76 Maigret novels and 28 short stories to plunder. That would keep us up to our trilbies in Parisian sleuthing for decades.

Shaun Dingwall, Lucy Cohu and Aiden McCardle

So does Maigret’s Dead Man finally ignite into a must-see drama? It is handsomely produced and the cast features good performers, such as Shaun Dingwall, Lucy Cohu and Aiden McCardle.

 MAIGRET Pictured : LUCY COHU as Madame Maigret. This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the transmission [TX] date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Plc Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com For further information please contact: Patrick.smith@itv.com

Lucy Cohu as Madame Maigret

And the dual tale – of a farmhouse slaughter in Picardy and the kidnap and killing of a man in Paris – are pretty juicy.

However, despite the money and expertise lavished on the production, it is plodding and unconvincing. Anyone who has got into Nordic noir in recent years or top French series such as Spiral over on BBC4, have got over the language hangup and enjoy the foreignness of it all. [Read more…]

Maigret, ITV, Rowan Atkinson

MAIGRET MAIGRET SETS A TRAP Pictured:ROWAN ATKINSON as Maigret. Photographer: Colin Hutton. This image is the copyright of ITV and must only be used in relation to MAIGRET

More in the pipeline: Rowan Atkinson as Maigret

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?

MAIGRET MAIGRET SETS A TRAP Pictured:REBECCA NIGHT as Yvonne Moncin. Photographer: Colin Hutton. This image is the copyright of ITV and must only be used in relation to MAIGRET

Suspicions: Rebecca Night as Yvonne Moncin

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.

MAIGRET MAIGRET SETS A TRAP Pictured:COLIN MACE as Lognon. Photographer: Colin Hutton. This image is the copyright of ITV and must only be used in relation to MAIGRET

Fagged out: Colin Mace as Lognon

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…]

The Driver, BBC1, with David Morrissey, Ian Hart, Colm Meaney PREVIEW

Vince McKee (DAVID MORRISSEY) in The Driver
Driven to desperation – cabbie Vince McKee (David Morrissey). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 23 September, 9pm

Story: Taxi driver Vince McKee finds his life taking an unexpected turn when he accepts an offer to drive for a criminal gang. It’s been engineered by his old friend Colin, who has resurfaced after a six-year stretch in prison.

‘HOW WOULD YOU like to earn a bit extra?’ These are the words that slowly tempt cabbie Vince McKee into a faustian pack with a gangster known as the Horse in this stylish and gripping slice of Manc noir.

David Morrissey is very good at playing men on the edge – remember him in State of Play? – and he is the man caught in crisis here. His life consists of crap money, customers puking in his cab and a burnt-out marriage to Rosalind.

Since their son cut his ties with them, they’ve drifted apart, and Vince is finding it hard to get on with his teenage daughter. He is depressed and stressed.

Colm Meaney as the Horse in The Driver
Colm Meaney is a man called Horse

Poker with the Horse

His world takes a swerve for the reckless when he meets his old chum Colin, just released from prison for armed robbery. Colin thinks he is good at being a criminal, despite his recent long stretch inside.

He and Vince discover that the woman in Colin’s life has been made pregnant while he was inside by his twin brother. Colin is, in other words, a sad case – and a bit toxic. When he invites Vince to play poker at his mate The Horse’s place, you know the cabbie should see a red light here and steer clear.

When the Horse, played by Colm Meaney in his first UK television role since the police drama Strangers in 1982, offers him ‘a bit extra’, Vince is adamant he doesn’t want to get sucked into the perils of Colin’s circle.

Part thriller, part family drama

However, when he has a run-in with two drunken young women who assault, rob him and flee his

David Morrissey as Vince McKee, Claudie Blakely as Ros McKee in The Driver
Vince and Ros

taxi down a dark back street, Vince accepts the Horse’s offer.

The Driver is a sharp story, part thriller and part family drama, directed with noirish intensity by Jamie Payne. It is written by Danny Brocklehurst (Accused, The Street) and Jim Poyser (Shameless), two writers who can build characters that have depth and moral complexity.

No one is perfect here, and when Vince goes for the offer to be a driver for the gang, we can see how seductive this is for him. The beauty of the story is that Vince is initially a changed man with his moonlighting role.

Brutal twist and a rubber-ripping car chase

The Horse pays well, Vince has cash to buy driving lessons for his daughter and remembers his

Woodsy (CHRIS COGHILL), Darren (ANDREW TIERNAN) in The Driver
Not a pretty sight – Woodsy and Darren

wedding anniversary (which Ros has forgotten). By the end of the opener, however, the story takes a brutal twist, and Vince knows he is in deep.

Manchester is filmed beautifully as a night-time backdrop to much of the action, and Jamie Payne builds some of the scenes very effectively. The meeting in which Vince accepts the work offer at the Horse’s swanky house, watched by his goons, is brilliantly atmospheric, combining visual warnings, off-kilter Hawaiian-style music on the gangster’s sound system and thinly veiled threats.

It’s only a three-parter, but The Driver tears off with a rubber-ripping car chase and packs plenty of absorbing drama. Fasten your seatbelts…

Cast: David Morrissey Vince McKee, Claudie Blakely Ros McKee, Ian Hart Colin and Craig Vine, Sacha Parkinson Katie, Colm Meaney The Horse, Darren Morfitt Mickey, Andrew Tiernan Darren, Christopher Coghill Woodsy, Lee Ross Kev Mitchell, Shaun Dingwall Detective Ryder, Lewis Rainer Tim McKee, Harish Patel Amjad, Tom Gibbons Ryan

Check out these links…
David Morrissey on bbc.co.uk
The Driver on bbc.co.uk

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Vera series 3, ITV, with Brenda Blethyn, David Leon PREVIEW

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn) and DC KENNY LOCKHART (Jon Morrison). VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
Vera (Brenda Blethyn) and DC Lockhart (Jon Morrison). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV: starts Sunday, 25 August, 9pm

Story: DCI Vera Stanhope investigates the brutal murder of young physiotherapist, Lizzie Faulkner, gunned down at a luxury country retreat. For DS Joe Ashworth, the case brings him face to face with a part of his past he’d rather forget.

BRENDA BLETHYN dons her Paddington Bear outfit to take us on another lovely tour of Northumberland. Of course, as she is playing Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, the sights include an unfortunate young woman who’s been blasted with a shotgun.

Initially, it seems there won’t be much traipsing around with Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth asking where everyone was on Saturday night because they have nabbed a scowling local who was in the field with a shotgun on that very night. Bingo!

Except that this is a 90-minute episode, so Robert Doran probably really was shooting badgers at the time, as he claims. Then, after a second murder is committed when Corinne Franks is run down by a fleeing car, it seems blindingly obvious that angry local Justin Bishop is their man. After all, Corinne

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn), DC KENNY LOCKHART (Jon Morrison) and ROBERT DORAN (Richard Riddell).VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
Vera at Robert Doran’s remote cottage

had killed his wife in a road accident.

Vera and Joe

But, alas… well, I won’t give more of the plot away. Let’s just say we all know how these procedurals work. Ever since Agatha Christie minted the formula back in the 1920s, it’s a given that whoever appears clearly guilty turns out to be resoundingly innocent, and whoever appears to be happily married is an adulterer etc etc.

Despite Vera following the whodunit conventions, it does have a bit more going for it. The writers (Paul Rutman, Gaby Chiappe) do flesh out Vera and Joe a little, so that we see a bit of occasional needle in their quasi mother-and-surrogate-son relationship.

We also see Joe’s marriage, and his wife’s near jealousy of Joe’s devotion to his job (in other words, Vera). There is also a subplot here about Joe having once mistakenly ensured that Doran was prosecuted and jailed for a crime in which he had actually acted in self-defence.

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn). VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
What have we here, then? Vera at Doran’s place

Another star performance from Brenda Blethyn 

And we get glimpses of Vera’s loneliness, and consequent fondness for a drink. All these moments breathe some life into the principals, though they still remain shadows of the characters depicted in author Ann Cleeves‘ series of popular novels.

But as David Leon, who plays Joe, says, ‘The plot is very important to the audience but I think the characters are what they remember.’

Spot on, and Vera’s distinctiveness is of course down to Brenda Blethyn’s fine performances, with her Vera veering between mumsy tenderness and steely determination.

Nicholas Gleaves and Shaun Dingwall

ITV also lines up a good cast for the stories, so we have Nicholas Gleaves as the smooth business partner of Corinne and her husband, while Shaun Dingwall is the rather chippy Justin Bishop.

Vera also has a new officer on her team – DC Barry Kelman, played by Gareth Farr. And later on,
Saskia Reeves, Dean Andrews, Liam Cunningham and Jill Halfpenny will turn up in the remaining

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn) and DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon). VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
Vera, Joe and the breathtaking scenery

three dramas.

And, of course, the other selling point of the show is the stunning scenery, the North East having breathtaking star quality throughout.

So, the new series of Vera presses all the buttons that its devotees will be hoping for, and it reaches a pretty decent, though not wildly surprising, denouement too.

Cast: Brenda Blethyn DCI Vera Stanhope, David Leon D.S. Joe Ashworth, Jon Morrison DC Kenny Lockhart, Riley Jones DC Mark Edwards, Paul Ritter Pathologist Billy Cartwright, Richard Riddell Robert Doran, Cassie Atkinson Tina Robson, Eva Quinn Lizzie Faulkner, Leah Brotherhead Maisie Jones, Nicholas Gleaves Tim Hopkins, Alex Childs Kirsty Hopkins, Shaun Dingwall Justin Bishop, Sonya Cassidy Celine, Mia Wyles Jessie Ashworth, Vinette Robinson
Corinne Franks, Alexander Arnold Sam Bishop

You can rent episodes of Vera online at ITV Player

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Above Suspicion: Silent Scream with Kelly Reilly PREVIEW

Too close for comfort? Anna Travis and James Langton. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV1, from Wednesday, 11 January, 9pm

Story: British film star Amanda Delany is murdered at home after a night shoot on a movie. Investigating detective Anna Travis is shocked to discover that behind all of Amanda’s success was a lonely, damaged and frightened young woman.

‘Silent Scream’ is the fourth Anna Travis story since 2009, based on the novels by queen of TV crime Lynda La Plante. In just a couple of years Above Suspicion has become a strong brand for ITV while remaining a pretty standard police procedural.

A murdered movie star, Amanda Delany (played by Joanna Vanderham, recently seen in Martina Cole’s The Runaway), is the victim. The episode begins, disconcertingly, with a young woman being chased through foggy Victorian London by a caped figure, before we realise this is a movie scene and the woman is an actress (Delany, as it turns out).

The victim, Amanda Delany

Promiscuity, drugs and embezzlement
Travis and the team uncover a pile of unpleasantness around Delany that has suspects queuing up like the passengers on the Orient Express. Delany had double-crossed an actress flatmate to get her breakthrough part, slept with many of her leading men, and broke up at least one of their marriages. She also had a drug habit, issues with her creepy dad, and she suspected her agent of cheating her out of money. 

Meanwhile, detective chief superintendent Langton has been stitched up, apparently by someone on his own team, in his bid to win promotion. In between barking orders at Travis and making goo-goo eyes at her, Langton wants to find out who buggered his career prospects.

‘Silent Scream’ falls a little flat because much of it doesn’t convince. Would the film crew continuing its shoot the morning after their leading actress has been stabbed to death? Such details along with the contrived level of suspects in the case make the drama feel a little formulaic.

Anna Travis – Jane Tennison’s sassy sister in law enforcement
As is Anna Travis. Kelly Reilly is watchable and has screen presence, but as a hard-bitten high-flying detective, she needs a major suspension of disbelief. Where Lynda La Plante created a convincing female protagonist in Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison for Prime Suspect, Travis misses the target completely.

The character was more plausible, and interesting, in the early stories as a rookie detective. The intention has clearly been to have Travis become Tennison’s sassier younger sister in law enforcement, but they’ve overdone the sass a bit.

With her high heels and heavy eye make-up, she looks too glam to go round questioning bereaved parents and possible suspects. When she turns up to interview a jilted wife and the wife saddles Travis with her shopping bags, that sums up the gravitas Travis brings to the job.

Ratings success
The detective has also been super fast-tracked from rookie to detective inspector, and La Plante says we will see ‘Travis progress even further up the career ladder’. At this rate, she’ll soon be Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

While it ain’t easy to see what makes her such a promotion shoo-in, Above Suspicion‘s ingredients for hitting its customary audience of around six million are clear. ‘Silent Scream’ is packed with enough dodgy characters, scandal, lingering romance (between you know who) and police rivalry to make it a juicy three hours.

Kelly Reilly Anna Travis, Ciarán Hinds James Langton, Shaun Dingwall Mike Lewis, Michelle Holmes Barbara Maddox, Celyn Jones Paul Barolli, Amanda Lawrence Joan Faukland, Philip Arditti George Peroz, Geoff Bell Harry James, Dara Devaney Sean O’Dell, Ray Fearon Sam Power, Jack Fortune Mr Delany, Bryony Hannah Felicity Turner, Joanna Vanderham Amanda Delany

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Above Suspicion – Deadly Intent PREVIEW

Ciarán Hinds, Kelly Reilly, Shaun Dingwall and Celyn Jones (pics: (C) ITV Plc/LA PLANTE)

Rating ★★★

ITV1, Mon 3 Jan, Tues 4 Jan, Wed 5 Jan, 9pm

This is a third outing for Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion featuring detective Anna Travis, the modern-day heir apparent to Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison.

But while she may be Tennison’s heir, Travis is not her equal. Above Suspicion has performed very decently for ITV in the ratings – first series notching up 8m viewers – and Kelly Reilly, who plays Travis, may be an attractive lead, but this new La Plante production is not as sure-footed or powerful as Helen Mirren’s predecessor.

Reilly is too girlish (despite being 33) and glam to convince as a high-flying detective in what is still shown here to be a male-chauvinist enclave. And she is flying – having started out as a teetering rookie in series one, she is now a detective inspector.

Jane Tennison would never have cut it if she’d worn short black skirts and low-cut singlets around the office, and though we may have moved on since 1991, we haven’t moved on so far that Travis would be taken seriously looking so exposed today.

Despite such quibbles, this third series is possibly the best yet. Not as gruesome as the others, particularly last time’s The Red Dahlia instalment, but still a compelling story.

Plastic surgery in Mexico
In a prelude, we see a mystery man in Mexico getting plastic surgery, before the action switches to London, where there’s been a shooting on a council estate drug squat. The victim turns out to be Frank Brandon, a bent cop and former chum of Travis’s gruff guvnor, DCS James Langton (Ciarán Hinds).

His team quickly discovers that Brandon recently married Julia Larson (Stine Stengade), a glamorous, wealthy woman who was employing him as her driver. All of which seems a bit unusual.

Known to have been on the estate are fierce drug dealer Silas Roach (Robbie Gee, left) and small-time user Eddie Court (Ashley Court). Meanwhile, Travis questions a resident on the estate who insists he heard three shots, when only two bullets hit Brandon.

Travis’s style to follow her hunches on her own, because her male superiors don’t listen to her. She finds the third bullet – and gets a rollicking – questions Julia Larson, who reluctantly reveals she had a previous husband, and researches Fentanyl, a pure drug with the street name Drop Dead, traces of which were found at the squat.

What’s going on between Travis and Langton?
Brandon’s strange marriage, the man who changed his identity and the drug that seems to have prompted several assassinations make this a heady story. Mixed in are Travis’s clashes with DCI Mike Lewis (Shaun Dingwall), who’s also been promoted and is heading the investigation, and the intensifying emotional spark she has with their boss, Langton.

La Plante gives an insight into this strange attraction. She says, ‘It’s really down to the will-they-won’t-they, question?

‘A lot of women absolutely love Langton, and some find him really awful to Travis. In that respect it’s a bit like Gone with the Wind. He’s so nasty to her at times, but in this one we do have the emotional impact when he tells her the truth about his life. We see that this vulnerability allows Travis to reveal her feelings for him, if only to herself. It continues to build the tension between them. I think this is what makes their interaction compelling.

‘Langton is a dedicated police officer and an exceedingly good one who has very strong gut instincts, but he is not an intellectual man. He’s hardly ever read a book, if it wasn’t connected to a crime.

‘However, Travis is university educated and different… she also stands up to him, which none of the other women or men do. But like Langton, Travis is intuitively intelligent and in many ways has a similar trait to Langton in that, she won’t let something go. This makes her a very good detective, she could very easily dismiss the fact that one of the witnesses said she heard three bullets. Her persistence in uncovering the detail proves to be the key in this case. A fact that Langton admires.’

Travis stirs the case further when she discovers a link between Julia’s ex and a drug distributor on the FBI most wanted listed, who could now be in the UK. The team don’t really know what they are investigating or how the case will escalate, and neither will viewers.

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