For reasons I don’t even want to contemplate, I’ve been procrastinating watching any of the new “Maigret” series with Rowan Atkinson. Maybe because I really liked the Michael Gambon interpretation, or maybe because his brilliance as a comic actor made it hard for me to accept Atkinson in a straight dramatic role, especially one as dark as Jules Maigret. There’s very little in Simenon’s character that could be called comic relief, so it would seem pretty bleak territory for someone of Atkinson’s gifts.
I needn’t have worried. Apart from an odd bit of facial business in a few of the opening scenes, where he looks as if there’s a foul smell in the room (and he’s afraid it’s him), Atkinson does Simenon proud, and Budapest does an admirable job as ’50s Paris. The script is workmanlike and very Simenon-ish, RA’s Maigret is as terse, implacable, and inscrutable as I’ve always felt he should be. Gambon’s portrayal was quite excellent, but I felt his Maigret was a bit too expansive, and he enjoyed the beer and the pipe a trifle too much. He was also much too big for Maigret; Atkinson is physically perfect.
There’s not the slightest whiff of Blackadder (any of them) or Mr. Bean, or any of his other catalog of comic personae; he’s shed them all and come up with a very creditable, if not quite perfect, Jules Maigret. I recommend at least the first episode (“Maigret Sets a Trap”) to fans of Simenon, Atkinson, mystery drama in general, or to newcomers to the character or genre – it’s a very good place to start. If your only experience of mystery drama so far is Poirot or any of the other Brit styled pieces, this will fit right in. Fans of “NCIS” and “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” can probably skip it without risk.