I’ve been on a Georges Simenon mini-kick lately. I had read an assortment of Maigret novels over the years but the sheer size of his backlist — 500 novels, even if many of the novels barely top 150 pages — daunted me, and those Maigrets I did read were, quite frankly, easy to digest and all the easier to forget. Looking for the quality needles in a quantity haystack seemed more arduous than necessary.
But then I read Dirty Snow, Simenon’s 1948 roman dur that truly is as good as advertised, as well other durs like The Blue Room (1963), The Mahe Circle (1944), and M. Hire’s Engagement (1933). And over the weekend I ripped through his 1970 memoir When I Was Old, a (seemingly revised) collection of his notebook jottings between 1960 and 1962, at a time when he said he felt the onslaught of older age upon him and became fearful over a decline in productivity, “only” able to produce 3-4 novels a year rather than the dozen (or, in his pseudonymous pulp days of the 1920s, several dozens) that was his habit.
One of our favourite book bloggers, Ellie from the wonderful blog Lit Nerd, has written about her experiences reading Georges Simenon for the first time.
After having read Georges Simenon’s mystery novel The Blue Room, Ellie was curious to find out more about the author and especially since, as she mentions, ‘he was everywhere.’
She chose to start with two of the most well-loved Simenon works, Maigret’s Holiday and Maigret Sets a Trap. Thanks to them, she was finally introduced to the mysterious detective and she now admits she is ‘very excited about getting to know him more.’ and is ‘completely addicted.’
To read the whole blog and the review click HERE.
Maigret Sets A Trap and Maigret’s Dead Man are two stand-alone dramatic films featuring the legendary French fictional detective Jules Maigret, played by the globally-renowned actor Rowan Atkinson. John Simenon, Georges Simenon’s son, acts as executive producer for the show. In this interview, he discloses some of the secrets of the series.
How did these two Maigret films come about?
The underlying rights to my father’s work belong to Georges Simenon Ltd and its subsidiary, Maigret Productions Limited, are co-producers, together with Ealing with Barnaby Thompson co-exec producing. There were several projects being proposed to us at the time, including from France but Barnaby’s was the most promising.
Tell us about your father as an author and what he created?
Maigret represents 75 novels and 28 short stories out of a total production of 350 literary works. All the other works are non-Maigret. They are what some would call psychological noir novels. My father started working as a writer in the early 1920s around the age of 20 and he learned his trade for about 10 years, churning out what he called popular pulp novels under pseudonyms. When he felt he was ready to publish something in his own name, he went for what he thought was the easy way into literature, which was the detective novel. He explained that when your main character is a detective who can know everything and do anything, it’s like a prop to lean on. My father was not attracted by plot. He was attracted by people. His interest lies in human behaviour and the human soul. There are two short ways to characterise the Maigret novels. One is to say Maigret does not solve crimes but solves people. And the other is to say his stories are not whodunits but whydunits. That is what I would say defines Maigret in a nutshell: his empathy, his interest for other people. Maigret is not a hunter like the traditional policeman. All policemen will tell you they are hunters at heart. Maigret is not a hunter, he is an explorer who tries to be, in my father’s words, a “repairer of destinies”. In terms of readership, my father has been translated into about 55 languages and is reported to have been read by more than a billion people. He is definitely one of the most adapted authors of all times as his stories have been adapted at least 450 times, some many times over. Not only all the Maigrets but a great many of the others.
Is that focus on human nature the reason why the stories have endured and translate so well to a modern day audience?
I believe it is. It’s about the human condition and what my father called ‘the naked man’, separate from all the particularities of time, space and other circumstances. The man that existed ten thousand years ago and that will hopefully still exist ten thousand years from now. The core of what people are all about. His stories take place in the 1950s and 1960s and in the 1930s and 1970s, so they span pretty much most of the last century. The nexus of his stories is valid in any country and at any time. Because people are people and they don’t change that much. That’s why, I believe, he is translated so much, why he still endures, why he is so adaptable. The characters he writes about are gold mines for actors who often come to me and ask if they could play this or that particular character. To them, his characters embody everything they want to express in their own art. Plots can change with time. Human beings don’t. Further, his writing style is very concise and very evocative. When you read Simenon he speaks directly to your heart, not to your brain.
What sort of father was he? What are your memories of him?
Just an ordinary father. Key to our relationship were our regular long walks together during which we would discuss just anything. As a 10-year-old, then as a teenager, every day I would go for these long walks with him. I think they gave me a very intuitive knowledge of who he was. I can’t remember every single conversation. But I can remember some of the stupid things I would tell him. And that I’ll keep for myself.
Was there a moment when you realised how famous he was?
I always knew he was famous. It’s part of your life so you don’t see how special it is. If you grow up in circumstances where each time you say your name, people say, ‘Oh, you mean Georges Simenon?’ or something like that, that’s your normal environment and you don’t question it. You don’t really realise what it means until you become older and start having a life on your own. But even then it never struck me as much as when I began to manage his literary estate. It’s only then, when I saw the numbers, that I really gauged the incredible depth of his success.
“But the first turning point came when I started reading his novels as a grown up. I was about 35 when I rediscovered them, and my reaction was the same as anybody who gets into Simenon and becomes hooked on his writing.
What do you think of Rowan Atkinson’s portrayal of Maigret?
I don’t doubt people will share my feeling that Rowan Atkinson is probably going to be one of the truest Maigrets ever. Because he really expresses a unique sensitivity to others, an empathy that is so important. Which is much more important to me than anything else. These are physical attributes on which my father relied to establish Maigret at the very beginning. But then if you read the more recent Maigrets – those written after the war – you don’t see that many such descriptions of him. It’s part of the background. What is really important is his empathy, which is present from the first story in 1930 to the last one in 1972. A lot of what happens with Maigret works inwards. The challenge for Rowan was to express that. Not necessarily in words but also in behaviour and body language.
These two films are set in 1950s’ Paris. What does that period bring to the story and drama?
First it brings novelty. I don’t think there are many shows that take place in such time and location. It is very exciting because that was the eternal Paris we all love. It was a time of growth and people wanted to forget the war. There were still many scars from the war but people were optimistic. It was probably one of the last moments in the last 70 years when French people were optimistic and looking forward and open and excited about their future. It was also a time when most violence was somewhat ‘ordinary’. Not that I consider any violence acceptable, but terrorists or big Mafia were not yet what they are today.
In terms of the authenticity of the character, are there certain things Maigret does not do?
Maigret almost never draws a gun, let alone shoots one. In the whole history of the saga I think he has probably shot his gun less than 5 times in 103 stories. Maigret also never drives as he doesn’t have his license. For Rowan that must be frustrating! He takes cabs all the time or is driven by his team. He also smokes the pipe and is certainly not a teetotaller.
Their relationship is really one of ‘complicité’, in French. The English word ‘accomplice’ doesn’t fully express the same thing. She is very supportive but has a mind of her own. It is a secure relationship. They have a very strong bond and are simple people. They go to the movies and will hold hands doing that. They also have that little house by the Loire river where they like to go for vacations. They are very settled. But Madame Maigret is not subservient. It is also clear that they share the same bed. But what makes Maigret a little special is that I always think of Maigret and Madame Maigret almost like parents. You know it happens, but you don’t want to see it. So it was important for me that Lucy and Rowan be credible in that relationship and express the great level of tenderness that exists between Maigret and Madame Maigret. I think this comes across very well. Rowan and Lucy are a good match. And Lucy looks very much like the Madame Maigret my father described many times. She is terrific.
Do you have a cameo in either of the films?
Yes, in the final scene of the first film. To illustrate Paris in the 1950s, Ashley Pearce, the director of Maigret Sets A Trap, chose a collection of 50s photographs which he recreated in the film as establishing vignettes of the streets of Paris. One of the pictures was that of a man reading a book to a young boy on a bench in a park, and that is what I played. But it could end up on the cutting room floor.
Why film Maigret in Budapest?
Recreating Paris in the 50s requires special effects irrespective of where you shoot, but strangely enough, less so in Budapest, where many places are architecturally very similar to Paris, and which is also much less expensive.
The Simenon name is known worldwide. Has it led to any striking encounters?
Two which really struck me. When I was 23, I went to Japan for the 1970 World Fair – Expo ’70. You didn’t have cell phones then, so you had to make calls through the operator. One day in Osaka, I asked the Japanese operator to get in touch with my father, giving his name and number, and she said in French, ‘Simenon? Georges Simenon the writer?’ That, I must say, was really quite a surprise. And the other one is much more recent. I was travelling with my family in Utah. We arrived at one of those truck stops in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Just a cross between two highways. So I walk into this remote motel at 10 o’clock at night and the night watch lady was reading a Simenon book. That was wonderful.
Why do readers and viewers love Maigret?
You do escape into a different world, but Maigret also brings you back to yourself – which does not necessarily happen with other detectives. You know you could be part of that story while you read it. It’s not something so divorced from your own life. You feel it’s something that could happen to you or people you know. Not the crimes themselves. I’m talking about the human circumstances Maigret investigates. They remind you sometimes of things you have lived through or seen in your own life. My father’s villains are never absolute evils. They all have some humanity in them. My father didn’t believe in pure evil. He was interested in what turned ordinary people towards crime. A serial killer has no excuse for what he has done. Neither Maigret nor my father will let him escape his responsibility, but he’s still a human being who was once a child and was also quite likely the victim of something else. And I think people understand their empathy for such situations.
What does it mean to you that in 2016 people still love and appreciate the work of your father?
It’s a great gift. I don’t take it for granted. It’s a tribute to his talent, his universality and also to the man he was. So many things have been written about him, he was not an easy man. But he was a good man. Not in the sense of a gentle uncle or whatever. He was not that. He was not always reassuring. He had a lot of anxieties. But his sense of ethics was very high.
Another round of reviews for ITV’s adaptation of one of Georges Simenon’s favourite stories, Maigret Sets a Trap.
Maigret’s Rowan Atkinson features in The Mail’s Weekend magazine – TV Talk:
Matt Rudd of the Sunday Times explains why he enjoyed the first installment of the two-episode adaptation of Maigret.
Read the full article HERE
Euan Ferguson of the Guardian defends the main actor’s performance, especially emphasizing his versatility.
‘What of Rowan Atkinson, as Maigret? I thought he was terrific as far as it went. Deeply subtle, and his shtick was not clues but psychology.’
Find the review HERE
After the premiere of the first episode of the new adaptation of Maigret on Easter Monday,
reviews are everywhere for Maigret Sets a Trap. Here are some of the best so far.
Gabriel Tate of The Telegraph adds Maigret Set a Trap to his ‘What to Watch’ list for the Easter weekend:
RadioTimes presents a complete guide to the series introducing the characters and the actors portraying them, including Rowan Atkinson as Chief Inspector Maigret and Fiona Shaw as Mme Moncin.
Read the whole article HERE
Christopher Stevens of the Daily Mail gives Maigret Sets a Trap four stars, emphasizing over all Rowan Atkinson’s performance and the flawless settings.
‘Maigret is the ultimate father figure. He is decent, strong, honest and kindly. He knocks back beer and shots of liquor all day and night, but he is never drunk. He puffs on his pipe, calm and wise but constantly alert. No criminal can escape him. As long as Maigret is guarding us, we can sleep at night.’
Find the review HERE.
Maigret Sets a Trap was featured in The Daily Mail’s TV Picks:
Stephen Amstrong from Radio Times interviews Rowan Atkinson about his fears of playing such iconic character.
‘I tend to play people with a slightly odd, eccentric or particular attitude to life. The problem with Maigret is – he’s ordinary. He hasn’t got a limp, a lisp, a French accent, and he has no particular love of opera or all those other things that people tend to attach to fictional detectives. He’s just an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job, in a very interesting time. I found that daunting.’
Read the interview HERE
With the revival of his most famous creation through the new TV adaptation of Maigret’s adventures,
Express looks back at Georges Simenon’s productive and successful career.
Although Chief Inspector Maigret gave him most of the popularity for which he is remembered today, Belgium-born Georges Simenon, as it is highlighted in the article, was actually always writing: ‘he wrote more than 400 books, using at least 17 pen names. He would rise at dawn and write between 60-80 pages before 10.30am. He aimed to write a novel in seven-10 days.’
‘He owned more than 300 pipes, smoking up to 15 full bowls of tobacco a day. You might have thought Simenon’s health would be affected by his excesses but in fact he died in his sleep at the ripe old age of 86.’
Georges Simenon passed away in 1989, but his most celebrated creation lives on, now played by Rowan Atkinson.
Read the full article HERE
INTERVIEW WITH ROWAN ATKINSON AHEAD OF MAIGRET AIRING ON ITV THIS EASTER
How did this role come about?
“ITV sent the script of the first film. I read it, thought about it for three months and then decided I didn’t want to do it. Which is the kind of thing I often do. Not because I didn’t want to do it but because I wasn’t sure I could do it.
“It was mainly because I didn’t really want to do it in the year in which they wanted to make it. Then, of course, a year later you don’t know whether they’ve already found someone to play the part or not. But it was still there when I woke up to it again and I was re-offered the part.
“Even then I had to think about it for some time because I had to believe I could play it. Because the odd thing about him as a character is he’s not much of a character. He’s fairly bland. He hasn’t got a French accent or a limp or a lisp and he doesn’t love opera. There isn’t a tremendous amount to get hold of in character terms. He’s just an ordinary guy doing a slightly extraordinary job in a quite unpleasant world.
“The thing I thought I could do was his thoughtfulness. That it’s his ruminative, thoughtful and quite compassionate side, I suppose, which is interesting. Because he’s definitely not an egotist, he’s not a performer, he’s not an eccentric, he’s not a weirdo, he hasn’t really got a bad streak in him.
“I’m not claiming any of those things for myself, but I felt I could probably portray a lot of the aspects of him that did exist. Particularly that quietness. I think I’m quite good at not doing very much on screen. So that drove me to say yes. We decided to make two films and that’s what we’ve done.”
Were you actively looking for this sort of role?
“Not particularly. Anyway, the idea of playing a TV detective felt like a bit of a cliche. It felt like a bit of a road down which many have trodden. In particular I’m always quite nervous about playing characters that have been played before. I think it’s in many ways more fun to create a character from scratch.
“But then if everyone followed that rule, no-one would ever play Hamlet or any of the other great roles that exist. Indeed the first time I’d ever played a role that had been played before was probably Fagin in Oliver, which had definitely been played many times before I did it on the West End stage five, six years ago. Actually I didn’t mind doing that because in the end you create your own version and that’s what people either come to see or don’t.
“I thought Maigret was totally and definitely different to any other TV detective. It’s not really Morse and it’s not A Touch of Frost and it’s not Midsomer Murders. It’s really none of those things. The period helps and the setting helps and just the tone of Simenon’s writing is very interesting. Quite dark, quite seedy, quite sleazy.
“Harder nosed I would say than an awful lot of TV fiction. Not detective fiction, of which there’s an awful lot of extremely unpleasant stuff out there. But in terms of what you see on TV, I think it has a unique tone to it. Whether we’ve captured it or not is for others to judge. But I liked the fact it didn’t feel like any other TV detective show that I knew currently.
“So I wasn’t particularly looking to play this sort of role. In many ways because it was a TV detective I was slightly put off it. But I quite liked the fact that I’m rather old for it because he’s supposed to be around 50 and I’m definitely around 60. In fact I am 60. But I felt as though I could probably carry it off. Because he’s not an old man, he’s supposed to be a vigorous middle aged man. But still, at least it was something that I wasn’t too young for. Let’s say that for it. And as such it felt like an appropriate thing to do.”
When did you first encounter Maigret?
“I didn’t see the Rupert Davies’ Maigret TV series in the 1960s. We didn’t have a television at home until I was 14. So that meant, for whatever reason, that I didn’t see much TV. But I’ve seen bits since. And I’ve also seen the Michael Gambon Maigret. But, again, I don’t remember either hearing about it or seeing it in 1992. It passed me by.
“I do remember reading some Maigret books when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I remember they were enjoyable and I’ve read far more since. I’ve read about eight more books since this project, mainly from the early eras.”
Do you think Maigret, although set in 1950s’ Paris, is relevant to a modern day audience?
“Yes, I think it is. Maigret’s humanity is important and it’s admirable. It’s enjoyable to watch somebody witness and having to deal with great inhumanity and at the same time they are able to display such compassion to all those involved in these extremely messy and violent situations. He conveys this calm at the centre of sometimes very stormy stories.”
Maigret takes a huge risk in the first film. Did you view taking this role as a risk?
“Everything is a risk to a certain extent. But like all risks you make a judgement in order to reduce the risk. So you don’t play any part that comes along, you play the parts that you think you’re going to do best. And then you’re in the lap of the gods to a certain extent.
“But yet again you make judgements about producers, about directors, about casting. You make a judgement about everyone with whom you come into contact and you decide whether it feels like the kind of thing you want to do. And in the end in the creative world your instinct is the only real skill you have. It’s the only real quality that you can lean on. And my instinct historically has been okay, I think. So you’ve just got to carry on trusting your instinct. That’s all you’ve got.”
Was there a moment wearing the hat and coat and smoking the pipe when you felt this was ‘My Maigret’?
“He hasn’t got a limp but he has got a pipe. So that’s a start. The first couple of weeks on the first film I found very, very difficult. The main problem being not the fact the part is serious but that the character is very low key and his whole delivery is decidedly untheatrical and naturalistic.
“I think it’s the naturalism of the character and of the performance that is of the kind required by modern television drama – that you can’t do anything too big or silly or theatrical. Generally speaking even the serious characters I’ve played on stage have been far more characterful than Maigret is.”
“Whereas with him it’s just this very low key, almost inflection-free delivery which is how you’re supposed to do an awful lot of television drama. It’s not Henry V. And that I found very difficult. I’m used to, in many ways you might say, milking every word for all the value, whether it’s comic or serious, that you can get out of it. And you’ve just got to let it flow. It’s got to tell the story in the most low key naturalistic way. So it was the low key naturalism that I found tricky.”
You decided to smoke real tobacco in the pipe?
“That was more a practical thing than anything else. Real tobacco stays alight for much longer and also it doesn’t burn.”
Maigret never drives himself. Is that frustrating for a car enthusiast?
“Yes, I do find it frustrating, actually. The first character I’ve ever played who is in close contact with a car, who doesn’t drive it. But no, he’s always chauffered. So be it. In a Citroen Traction Avant Light 15.”
Have you had to curtail your motor racing activities due to the insurance requirements that always come with a role like this?
“A little bit. I couldn’t do anything at Goodwood this last September. I usually like to race at the Goodwood Revival. But I’m used to that. That’s happened several times on movies, on Johnny English movies and things. Not only are you not allowed to motor race during the shooting, you’re not allowed to motor race for three months before the shooting. So it can be very restrictive and has been over the years.”
All eyes are on Maigret as he leads an investigation. As a ‘globally renowned actor,’ are you able to go about your business without being bothered? Or are there places and situations you have to avoid?
“I’ve lived with recognisability for several decades now. You get used to it. And you get used to dealing with it. The modern era of the smartphone…10, 15 years ago things changed quite significantly. The fact that people very rarely ask you for an autograph now. It’s always a photograph.
“But at the same time I’m certainly not a recluse. I lead a normal life in a normal way. But you learn. If you’re going to travel by tube – which, surprisingly I do quite a lot – you know where to stand, where to face and what time of day to go.”
Presumably it’s that ‘in plain sight’ factor. People don’t expect to see you?
“Yes, exactly. If you turned up to a building in a fleet of limos with nine bodyguards you’re going to attract more attention than if you don’t.”
Maigret is often under pressure. Do you enjoy the responsibility of being the leading man at the head of a production?
“Actually, no I don’t if I have to be honest. I try not to set myself up as a team leader too much. I leave that to producers like Jeremy Gwilt on Maigret. All I want to do is the job. And my job is the same as any other actor, which is just to play the part and make it credible and tell the story. Which is the only job an actor really has. And that’s what I focus on.”
“Also I tend to take the work extremely seriously. This is not because it’s a serious part. I’m afraid I’m the same with all the comic stuff I’ve done. I’m quite a dull person to work with because I’m very absorbed in the work I do. But I hope I’m always polite and nice to people. Which I think I am.”
You’re doing a job just like anyone else?
“Yes. The job of acting. Yes, absolutely. It’s just a job.”
What has the experience of filming in Budapest been like?
“Budapest is a nice place to be. I tended to go home a lot because I don’t like being away from home, if I have to be honest. I like to be in my own bed every night rather than somebody else’s. I got away every weekend. But it’s a very nice city. It’s quite calm.
“In fact it’s rather Maigret-esque, actually, compared to some other places like Prague, which are a little more stag party in their flavour – at least certainly at weekends and evenings. Well maybe there are stag parties going on in Budapest and I have been blissfully unaware of them. It’s not that kind of city.
“It’s a beautiful city and perfect to portray Paris in the 1950s. We needed a European city, and a European city that was, I’m afraid, slightly behind the times. You can still find cobbled streets with grass growing between the cobbles in Budapest. You’ll never find that in Paris.”
Did you film any scenes in Paris?
“They did film there. I didn’t go. It involved a chase involving several people. We were supposed to be going on the Tuesday after the Bataclan theatre attacks. Then, of course, all the filming permits were rescinded and we never went.
How would you describe the relationship between Maigret and Madame Maigret?
“In the books the relationship is relatively undeveloped. Having said that, there’s a book I read in which Maigret spends the entire story in bed and Madame Maigret is running around doing everything at his bidding. But generally speaking the relationship is what you might call very old fashioned. In that it’s very calm and not overly-demonstrative but I think a very loving and genuine relationship.
“I think Maigret appreciates that calm and the normality of it. In contrast to the frequently, I’m sure, traumatic nature of his work. We’ve tried to develop the character of Madame Maigret. I think she’s more present in these stories than she would have been in the equivalent stories in the novels.
“Because you have to cast these things and you’re going to get better people the better and more fulfilling the role is. Lucy Cohu is extremely good. We’ve tried to give her a definite presence in these stories.”
Are there other career ambitions you currently have in mind?
“No. I haven’t got a bucket list, as they say. In terms of roles it’s just whatever comes along. I certainly don’t want to lose touch with comedy. I enjoy playing characters and I don’t notice the difference in terms of the job. Whether I’m playing a serious character or a comic character, the job is exactly the same as far as I’m concerned. And I enjoy them both.
“There is that slightly dull feeling sometimes that people think you should get serious when you get old. And, unfortunately, you do lose in the audience’s eyes a degree of comic authority as you get older.
“There’s something about over-45s in comedy. It’s great if you get something like Dad’s Army in which everyone was extremely old and that generally speaking their joke is about being old. You’re stupid or you’re short-sighted or you’re incontinent or whatever your little ageing characteristic is. But I don’t want to lose touch with comedy and I’m sure I won’t.”
How would you sum up the appeal of Maigret?
“I just hope we’ve done a decent job of telling some interesting stories. I think the world of Maigret is very interesting. Paris in 1955 and the characters and the crimes. I think it is different. Merely the fact they carry guns and don’t have lawyers present when they interview people. A very different world to our own. And yet humans and the human characteristics and characters are still there as much as they would be today. So I just hope people find the stories engaging. And I think they will.”
Well-known thanks to the wide range of eccentric characters played in the past, Rowan Atkinson admits the fear that playing an ordinary man caused on him when first offered the part.
He does, nevertheless, defend the importance and the value of comedy:
“The one thing I would never wish it to be thought is that you play serious roles in order to achieve some kind of respectability, which you can’t get playing comedy roles.”
In creating this iconic character, Atkinson affirms the pipe was of huge help, especially to recreate the atmosphere of the time; an idea supported by Georges Simenon’s son John who confesses he would have not allowed production without the smoking.
To learn more about the upcoming series, read HERE.
Starting this Easter on ITV, Rowan Atkinson plays the popular detective in the latest television adaptation for Georges Simenon’s novels Maigret Sets a Trap and Maigret’s Dead Man.
Although the actor had been offered the part previously, he did not feel confident enough because ‘(he) wasn’t really sure if (he) could do it’. However, Atkinson always had John Simenon’s support. Participating as producer for the series, the British performer was always the author’s son’s first choice.
It has been a long time since Maigret’s first cinema adaptation in 1932, so what has this new version to offer? And what is Rowan Atkinson bringing to the character?
To find out more, read HERE.
Defined as ‘the perfect modern man’, Maigret is different to any other famous fictional detective. John Simenon reckons the attraction to his father’s creation lies in ‘the moments when the ordinary man plummets out of his ordinary life into crime.’
Rowan Atkinson is the new face for Maigret in the upcoming British television series for ITV starting Easter.
To find out more, click HERE.