Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson failed to convince critics of his credentials as a heavyweight actor with his debut as the French detective Jules Maigret.
Maigret Sets A Trap is the first in a pair of two-hour ITV specials based on the novels of Georges Simenon.
Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean (Jonathan Short/AP)
Previous actors who have played the pipe-smoking detective include Charles Laughton, Bruno Cremer and Sir Michael Gambon, but Atkinson’s performance left critics unsure about casting, even as some awarded cautious praise for his efforts.
The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan wrote: “I was not sure, at first, why the team involved chose to do one of the Simenon books that was covered during the Michael Gambon years.
“Then I wasn’t sure about Rowan Atkinson, who erred more and more on the side of ‘blankly sullen, possibly depressed’ than ‘measured, ruminative and, you know, Maigret-ish’ as time went on.”
Sir Michael Gambon (Matt Crossick/EMPICS)
Gerard O’Donovan wrote in The Daily Telegraph that the Mr Bean actor took ‘some adjusting to’, but gave the 61-year-old credit for his acting skills as they crept through.
He said: “As a fan of Georges Simenon’s detective stories, my biggest problem with Maigret was always going to be rubber-faced Rowan Atkinson in the role of Paris’s best known detective. Stringy Mr Bean as the burly, pipe-smoking hero of the police judiciaire? Pull the other jambe.
“Inspector Maigret took some adjusting to … But Atkinson’s chameleon-like qualities gradually asserted themselves.
— ITV (@ITV) March 28, 2016
“A combination of middle-age spread and thickened eyebrows gave him a more heavyset and meditative look. Those famously mobile features were seized in seriousness, lips clamped around the iconic pipe. He spoke sparingly, as if every word was weighed in advance. Most of all, his eyes exuded not humour but oceans of watery, world-weary concern.”
Christopher Stevens in The Daily Mail also took note of Atkinson’s ‘splendid’ pair of authoritative eyebrows, although he deemed the actor’s voice too light and reedy for the character – and his torso not ‘barrel-chested’ enough.
Rowan Atkinson (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Stevens gave one of the programme’s most upbeat reviews, awarding the programme four stars and heaping praise on Atkinson, despite concluding: “This stand-alone special was poised between success and disaster.”
He wrote: “The Mr Bean actor has a superbly expressive face that crinkles with compassion or hardens into an implacable wall of determination with the flicker of a few muscles. That face has been the basis of all his comedy, because it can be so wildly contorted. Yet it is also capable of real subtlety.”
However, he noted concerns about whether Simenon’s writing about women had dated well, arguing: “In his world, men are controlled by their animal lusts. And women are men’s biggest problem. This notion sits uneasily with modern audiences.”
— ITV (@ITV) March 28, 2016
James Jackson in The Times saw Atkinson’s potential but cautioned: “This Maigret could do with giving away a touch more of his own soul if he’s to be our next favourite TV sleuth. Overall, classier than vin ordinaire, but still an early vintage.”
The supporting cast received rave reviews, with David Dawson’s turn as ‘psychopathic mother’s boy’ Marcel Moncin dubbed ‘just the right amount of unnerving’ by Sarah Hughes in The Independent and ‘a beacon of interest in the darkness’ by Mangan.
Mangan considered Fiona Shaw ‘brilliant’ as his domineering mother.