Maigret Sets A Trap online movie review - Inferior effort but with good design and some good performances
This Maigret novel (MAIGRET TEND UN PIÈGE) has been filmed various times previously (such as with Michael Gambon as Maigret in 1992), and may have seemed a sound choice for a brief series of new feature length adaptations for ITV.
But it is a tricky one to adapt, because it starts so slowly and most of the excitement is in the second half. The main attraction of this effort was doubtless everybody's curiosity as to whether Rowan Atkinson, so famous as a brilliant comedian, could possibly pull off a feature-length straight leading role in anything, much less a famous character like Maigret who requires gravitas. The good news for Atkinson is that he proved he can be serious for two hours and is an accomplished straight actor if given the opportunity. In order to try not to be funny, it is possible that he occasionally was a bit too gloomy and morose in some of the scenes. But never mind. He did not disgrace himself, and that is what matters. As to how he stacks up against previous Maigrets, that is a different matter. I have seen (though not reviewed, alas) the 1958 French film of this story starring Jean Gabin. Anyone who has seen that excellent film cannot take this new one seriously. And as for the lead role, how many actors can compare with Jean Gabin, one of the most magnetic personalities ever to hit the screen? Ashley Pearce who has directed this film is no match whatever for the brilliant and inspired Jean Delannoy, who directed the 1958 film and is famous for such classics as PASTORAL SYMPHONY (1946) starring Michèle Morgan and LOVE ETERNAL (1943), written by Jean Cocteau. The script was also shaky, because this is not at all an easy story to adapt, as I have already said. I believe it was a production error to start with this one. The film is chiefly remarkable for the wonderful production design and costumes. Apart from some shots of the Montmartre steps in Paris, the location work for this film was done in Budapest, which worked very well. The most outstanding performance in this film was unquestionably by the young actor David Dawson, as the murder suspect Marcel Moncin. He was made up to resemble Vincent Kartheiser of MAD MEN, which was very clever really. His expensive silk dressing gown was superb. I want one of those. For such a young actor with little experience, Dawson managed to control and pace his performance to a masterly degree. And that ain't easy when you are playing a psychopathic killer disguised as a calm, measured artist of good family. Dawson did just the right amount of quiet sulking when he was thrown into jail, and became hysterical only at the correct moments. This story gets very dramatic in the latter half, having nearly put us to sleep for the first. The other superb performance in the film was by Fiona Shaw, as Dawson's cloying, obsessive mother. Help! Protect us from such women! My favourite actor as Maigret is the quietly fascinating Bruno Cremer. I have the entire series of 54 episodes (1991-2005) starring Cremer, and they never disappoint. Anybody who likes Maigret should try and obtain them, which is not easy with English subtitles. It is a pity that this new ITV film is so disappointing, especially with all that excellent work done by the designers and some of the performances having been so good. Let's hope the next one with Atkinson, MAIGRET'S DEAD MAN (2016 but not yet broadcast) will be better. It has a different director, Jon East. (He really ought to direct something with Timothy West, and then it would be a case of East meets West. Just joking.)