People always tout the BBC as the jewel in the crown of British television, but somewhere it has really failed to make a mark is period crime drama. ITV really brings home the bacon here – we had years of Agatha Christie adaptations, and the broadcaster has now turned to other detective literature. Last Sunday saw the third in the Maigret series, and it was a treat to watch – well-acted and intensely interesting from the off.
Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads sees the inspector (Rowan Atkinson) investigate the murder of a diamond dealer, whose body was found in a Danish man’s car. However, the Dane claims to know nothing about it, and Maigret suspects that he may be telling the truth. Things seem to be more complex than they first appear – everybody at the Three Widows Crossroad is unusually secretive. In seeking the truth, Maigret must contend with two very different people – Inspector Louis Grandjean (Kevin R McNally), an old friend and police colleague, and the Dane’s alluring sister Else (Mia Jexen).
These Maigret films have really proved to be a triumph for Atkinson, and this one is no different. Maigret is Atkinson’s first solely dramatic role, and he continues to prove himself adept. In Maigret, he creates a character who is quiet and pensive, deeply understanding and sensitive yet who commands authority. He is a different mould to some of the detectives we normally see on-screen – it is his gentle yet insightful understanding of human nature that allows him to solve cases.
The third film also gives us the chance, now that we’ve had time to grown familiar with the character, to see him in a different light. Maigret is a happily married man (Madame Maigret doesn’t get the best portrayal in the books. Here, played by Lucy Cohu, she is every inch her husband’s equal), but we see him tempted by Else. Else is clearly damaged but also very alluring – she tries to cast a spell on Maigret, and he’s not entirely insensitive to it.
These Maigret films have really proved to be a triumph for Atkinson.
Onto the case itself. This is the kind of show that you need to pay attention to, but it rewards the viewer than does. It takes place in a rather remote part of France, just outside Paris (there are only three dwellings there), but it plays host to lots of villainy. A lot happens – there are many twists, with Maigret perhaps being one of the antidotes to those who want a bit of substance in their viewing. As a crime fan, I predicted the ending, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the show at all.
Maigret will be back on ITV later this year and, I hope, in the future – these films are a really substantial watch, showing that there is little better on TV than well-done drama.