29 March 2016

TV Review: Maigret Sets A Trap


Review written by Tom Newsom

“Some people are starting to compare him to Jack the Ripper,” one character tells Maigret - and there we have a reason why this particular drama exists. It’s very expensive, very classy and feature length, but it passes the commissioning test: previously adapted property, names attached, crime, detective. Serial killer even better, even more familiar, a safe bet for audiences.

The surprise is that this drama is as enjoyable as it is. There’s enough invention and brains behind the luxury to make this worth watching, at least for two hours.

Rowan Atkinson in the title role adds selling power before we’ve even begun. And personally, I was impressed. Impressed by myself mainly, for quickly forgetting his comedy, even though the voice and face were screaming Blackadder at me. And impressed that the quality was good enough to allow me. He underplays it constantly and consistently. It’s a hard part in that there’s few quirks to the character - the pipe is about all he’s got, which gets used less than half the time. He strikes a reassuring, calm presence against the almost seedy tone of the plot.

This is the darker side of Paris in the '50s, the TV side - the series constantly reminds you that this is France. Of course, the remaining cast are very British, as you’d expect, with Lucy Cohu standing out in the regulars as Maigret’s wife, a casting choice that immediately humanises the pair of them.

The title is Maigret Sets A Trap, not Maigret Sits in an Armchair and Thinks: it’s more of a psychological thriller than a constantly-guessing whodunnit, and it knows it is. It’s what sets Maigret apart from other detectives we’re seeing on screen. By the end of the story, you are aware of the man’s genius and skill (as cunning, you might say, as a fox) even if the police work has been slow, steady and with few miraculous discoveries. The drama is almost presented like it really happened, a based-on-true-events drama, yes, like Jack the Ripper. The period details completely won me over to this thinking, those, the classiness and the lack of sudden twists to the tale. And unlike Jack the Ripper, we actually get a satisfactory ending.

Crime fans will be kept happy. But I’m not sure on the wider appeal that ITV are clearly playing for - not that the crime genre has a narrow appeal. Alarm bells started to ring when the first fifteen minutes went by without any jokes. Come for the period detail, stay for the plot, but don’t expect many smiles whilst watching.

There’s a warmth of feeling that was missing here alongside the moodiness, especially if you discount Rowan Atkinson’s presence. And it’s an approach that still separates the TV channels, when you look at the biggest hitters: Happy Valley, Luther, No Offence - they don’t trade off darkness for good drama. Maigret appears in a week alongside the second series of Grantchester, which is achieving the same mix of high class and drama that Endeavour was pioneering back in January. ITV clearly have a monopoly on classy detectives from the 1950s and '60s. This drama, whilst expensive, is looking like a safe option.

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