Rowan Atkinson stars in the Maigret TV movies.
Rowan Atkinson stars in the Maigret TV movies. Colin Hutton

Murder he wrote: Rowan Atkinson stars as Maigret

BRITISH funnyman Rowan Atkinson shows off his serious side in his latest role for the BBC.

The Mr Bean and Blackadder star plays Detective Jules Maigret in the new small-screen adaptation of Georges Simenon's crime series.

Known as the Sherlock Holmes of France, Maigret is a measured and insightful detective and more of an introvert than Holmes.

The French investigator hasn't been portrayed on the small screen since Michael Gambon in the early '90s.

"In every cop drama we see the main hero is a maverick in some way, either womanising or an alcoholic with demons, but that isn't the case with Maigret," Shaun Dingwall, who plays Inspector Janvier, tells APN's The Guide.

"He imagines himself in a situation and for the people around him it's quite peculiar."

Dingwall is no stranger to a cop or period drama, having starred in Above Suspicion, The Young Victoria, Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness and Breathless.

The actor says the 90-minute adaptation is very faithful to Simenon's novels.

"There may be a few instances, because it's TV, where we've taken a bit of dramatic licence," he says.

"But the key thing is the tone of the piece and the atmosphere that we convey. Paris was a pretty dirty, dangerous place in the 1950s."

Modern-day Budapest stands in for post-war Paris.

"The funny thing is we needed Paris in the '50s but you can't find that in Paris," he says.

"But you go to Budapest and you point a camera in any direction and it's like you're transported back. It's quite extraordinary and beautiful and there's not a lot of CGI (used in the drama) for that reason. It just doesn't need it. It looks very much how I would imagine Paris would have been."

Dingwall's Janvier is a family man who is able to appreciate Maigret's quirks.

"Janvier is a bit more hands-on. He rolls his sleeves up," he says.

"They complement each other in that way quite beautifully. Janvier is very much also respectful of Maigret, because he's a genius and he gets results."

Dingwall was equally appreciative of Atkinson's calm presence on set.

"He's very, very serious about his work, as we all are, but you wouldn't necessarily expect that," he says. "He's this guy who's very thoughtful, very methodical and you just buy it. Not for one second do you think you're watching his acting."

In Maigret Sets a Trap, a serial killer is targeting women in the seedy Parisian district of Montmartre.

The newspapers are rife with speculation and Chief Superintendent Maigret is without a lead and under great pressure.

It is a story that sees the detective risk everything - his career, his reputation and even his colleagues' lives to find the culprit.

"Working on this was a real eye-opener for me," Dingwall says.

"I didn't realise quite how rough and dirty and violent Paris was at that time. There's the extremely glamorous side to it, which we're all familiar with, but the drugs, prostitution, racketeering, the gangs and gun violence are predominantly what we're interested in.

"It's set not long after the Second World War and that hangs heavily in people's minds."

Maigret airs tonight at 8.30pm on BBC First.

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