I saw BritBox through my Amazon Fire (TV) Stick (doesn’t that sound like something you’d take camping?) and resisted the temptation to subscribe for the one show I knew was on it. For someone who watches little TV, I seem to pay a small fortune each month for the privilege.
Then I saw that Rowan Atkinson, known to me from random Blackadder and Mr. Bean clips, had portrayed Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret. I was intrigued.
When I was younger (actually, young), I devoured a lot of the Maigret books. I can’t say I remember a lot about them individually, mainly an air of determination and sadness about Maigret as he and his detectives methodically ferret out all kinds of criminals, mostly in the atmospheric Paris that American tourists don’t see. I liked Maigret — he seems to be introverted, thoughtful, insightful, passive-aggressive as needed, and weary but relentless.
When the Michael Gambon series came out, I watched every episode I was aware of. It was a long time ago, but I think I remember he exuded that weariness even as he eventually gets his man (or woman). The depths of the human mind are exhausting.
Now here’s Atkinson putting on the big man’s trenchcoat and filling his shoes and ubiquitous pipe. Of course I signed up for BritBox — especially when I found out it carries the Gambon Maigret, Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett, Miss Marple with Joan Hickson, and Poirot with David Suchet (which disappeared from Netflix).
I watched series 1 today. Atkinson and the rest of the cast do not disappoint (Lucy Cohu as a not-at-all dowdy Madame Maigret, Leo Staar as Inspector LaPointe, Shaun Dingwall as Inspector Janvier, Aidan McArdle as the uptight Judge Comeliau, Mark Heap as Dr. Moers, and many others). Atkinson’s Maigret absorbs everything around him, every detail, insignificant and incongruous. In Maigret Sets a Trap, he seems impervious to the barbs of public (and public official) opinion, but those barbs help drive him on, even when he’s taken off the case just as his trap yields the first solid evidence in months. He slings them back at his suspect, a failure who’s desperate to be more than the mama’s boy he was raised to be.
In Maigret’s Dead Man, which seems unfortunately timed due to its immigrant theme, Maigret is equally undaunted by attempts to take him away from his “dead man,” which his superiors think must be an underworld crime, and move him and his men to a series of brutal murders/robberies in rural Picardie. Maigret’s on the case, whether he knows it or not, despite the “cold” he and his select detectives choose to come down with. In both cases, Maigret displays emotion mostly when he is with his caged suspect, and even then it’s muted. He’s calm but relentless as the suspects squirm under his pointed suggestions and questions. The only suspect who seems unfazed by him is Maria in Maigret’s Dead Man, but that could be because she’s speaking (and swearing) through a sympathetic interpreter — sympathetic, that is, until he’s shown photos of her criminal handiwork. If he lived in Maria’s world every day, he’d be as weary as Maigret seems.
I was surprised to recognize the mastermind in Maigret’s Dead Man —he’d played the dull, reliable Henry in North and South, the man with the set jaw who looks on silently and no doubt bitterly as Margaret changes trains to head north with John. The actor’s name is John Light, and that firm jaw must be his trademark—it’s exacerbated by North and South’s painfully high, stiff collars. While he’s boring as can be in North and South, here he’s a charming, coldly violent sociopath. In the end he tells Maigret the dead man was “nothing” — a little man like Maigret himself. It was strange to watch this venom drip from the man who wordlessly hands Margaret her bag so she can indecorously run off with another man. Anyway, I didn’t expect to see John Light in anything after North and South and am glad that I did.
Overall, Atkinson made me forget the little Blackadder and Mr. Bean I’ve seen and convinced me he’s Maigret. Now that I have BritBox, I’ll have to find time to go back and let Michael Gambon convince me as well. So much Maigret, so little time!