It’s quite weird the way the arts community has a long lasting cynicism of the artistic value of comedy. Whereas as soon as you play a serious role ‘Aha! Now you’re an actor’. Rowan Atkinson
A comic actor is a serious role?
By Roger Childs
Rowan Atkinson is one of Britain’s greatest comedians. With an ability to do wonderful impersonations, extraordinary faces and look like a complete idiot, he has entertained a generation.
But how about playing the legendary and serious French detective Maigret? No worries: Atkinson performed superbly in the title role of the recent BBC series Maigret’s Dead Man shown on TV1.
Definitely a different interpretation compared to Maigrets of the past played by luminaries of the silver screen such as Charles Laughton, Rupert Davis and Michael Gambon, but just as impressive.
A legendary detective
Your detective is a man just like anyone else, not particularly intelligent who sits for hours in front of a glass of beer. He’s disgustingly commonplace. How do you expect to sell something like that? Publisher, Artheme Fayard, to young Belgian writer, Georges Simenon
Fayard got it wrong and Paris-based Maigret went on to feature in 75 Simenon novels which sold hundreds of millions of copies.
The French detective sits comfortably in the top echelon of the thousand strong pantheon of fictional sleuths, alongside Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Father Brown.
The brilliance of the Maigret stories has nothing to do with the personality and appearance of the detective, but in the superbly told cases which are intricate and unpredictable, but always credible and convincing.
Wonderful period piece
This two part BBC series recreates the Montmartre of the 1950’s, complete with its crowded apartment blocks, narrow, poorly lit alleyways, seedy strip joints and nearby tree-lined parks.
The women wear long skirts and white blouses, while the men are clad in suits and hats, and invariably have a pipe or cigarette hanging out of their mouths.
The credits are creatively done to match the era, and the setting is beautifully established at the start with a panoramic view overlooking Paris from behind a Notre Dame gargoyle.
However, is the action in the French capital? No, apart from a few quick views of the Seine, it was filmed in Budapest. But you wouldn’t know it, as the stories are basically played out in back streets, on wharves and inside old buildings.
The two stories are vintage BBC drama; Atkinson is a very credible Maigret and the supporting cast of cops, villains, layabouts and family members are all utterly convincing.
Apparently there could be more episodes in the wind, after all there are plenty of stories to choice from in the Simenon oeuvre of 70 odd novels.
(All credit to TVNZ for incorporating some quality British programmes in January; it makes a change from the 91st showing of Four Weddings and a Funeral.)