Before the Maigret series of 2016, which is the subject of this post, I had no idea that these stories of Georges Simenon were ‘a thing’ at all. There was apparently a BBC series in the early 1960s which ran to some 50 or so episodes, but it’s not something I remember ever being on TV in my lifetime. Indeed, there was even a series in the early 1990s – starring Michael Gambon – but even that I have no recollection of, which surprises me as it should have been in my personal TV wheelhouse, easily.
What drew me to this series is simple – Rowan Atkinson. The thought of him taking on a serious role, set in 1950s Paris, seemed too intriguing to miss. Comedians can often do very well with proper, dramatic roles and I had a good feeling about him in this. I think the period also works well for murder mystery type stories. It’s modern enough that there’s a bit of technology, science and fast travel so the world feels similar to our own (and not like, for example, Sherlock Holmes’ Victorian London), but at the same time it’s also highly un-technological and un-scientific compared to now. No one has a mobile phone, no one can run a DNA test, spy satellites can’t track vehicles, and so on. It’s for a similar reason that I used to eat up the Australian-made Doctor Blake Mysteries series when it was on.
There are only four TV movies in this series – Maigret Sets a Trap, Maigret’s Dead Man, Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads, and Maigret in Montmartre – and ironically for a series about crimes, I find that criminal. Just as you get into the rhythm of the series, it ends. The films are simply so well done, they deserved to have more than four produced. End of story. I believe, at the time of writing, that a new series is on the way, but it’s from a new production team and won’t feature Atkinson. At once I’m filled with delight at seeing more Maigret made with modern TV standards, but disappointed that it won’t be the team I came to know and love in this series. Shaun Dingwall (no stranger to Doctor Who audiences), as Inspector Janvier, is one example of the great ensemble cast in these films.
I never go into great detail when it comes to mystery films or TV series, so let me just rate them in order of preference and you can compare to your own viewing, if you ever happen to see them:
- Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads
- Maigret’s Dead Man
- Maigret Sets a Trap
- Maigret in Montmartre
If I had a ton of spare time (ha, spare time, what is that?), I have the feeling I’d like to explore the English translations of Simenon’s novels and have a good read but, with 101 books on my shelves that remain unread after years, I know that to be folly. But that might indicate how good these TV movies are; you get to the end of the four and you just want more Maigret. He’s a really intriguing detective. He doesn’t come to astounding conclusions out of thin air like Holmes; he doesn’t have the arrogance of a Poirot; he’s not even quirky in any sort of discernible way. He’s quite interesting in his normality.