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Sunday, February 24, 2013


While other fictional detectives dazzle us with amazing deductions and flashy brainwork--often in order to gratify their own egos--Chief Inspector Jules Maigret is just an everyday cop solving mysteries for a living. 

In Acorn Media's 4-disc DVD set MAIGRET: COMPLETE COLLECTION, which contains all twelve novel adaptations from the 1992-93 British TV series, author Georges Simenon's low-key but doggedly determined detective leaves the theatrics to the other guys while getting the job done his way.

Michael Gambon (THE KING'S SPEECH, the Harry Potter films) is an ideal choice to play the big, casual, neat but slightly rumpled Maigret (pronounced "may-gray") of the Parisian police force, even though he and his co-stars are about as French as an eel pie.  Indeed, if it weren't for the Budapest locations doubling for Paris and all the other French trappings, this could just as easily be a show about Scotland Yard. 

No matter, though, as Gambon is irresistible in the part, going about his job in a firm but easygoing manner while displaying an appealing air of gentleness and empathy for others (which he sometimes extends to the perpetrators as well as the victims).  These qualities define his character rather than the usual eccentricities or quirks--the closest he comes to these are his fondness for pipe-smoking and a healthy appetite for good food and drink. 

Modesty is another unusual attribute, with one running gag being his reluctant notoriety due to numerous appearances in the newspaper.  Maigret's main interest besides doing a good job as a detective is to go home and enjoy quality time with his wife (Ciaran Madden in series one, Barbara Flynn in series two), who serves as his confidant and sounding board while offering much-needed moral support.  It's refreshing to watch a character of this type who's neither noirishly brooding nor a font of unending whimsy.

The stories themselves rarely rely on a fast pace or dollops of action and violence, offering instead the sort of engrossing and at times downright relaxing entertainment that one can curl up with like a good book.  The plots are interesting enough without getting too complex, leaving plenty of room for character moments and scenes that are unexpectedly poignant or hard-hitting.

We get to know Maigret's team, including seasoned veteran Sgt. Lucas (Geoffrey Hutchings, who could easily carry a series himself), younger but experienced Inspector Janvier (Jack Galloway), and amusingly callow Inspector LaPointe (James Larkin).  John Moffatt plays Comeliau, Maigret's archly officious, political-minded boss.

"The Patience of Maigret" features the murder of a retired gangster with whom Maigret was on friendly terms, triggering an investigation of the victim's fellow apartment building tenants that brings Maigret into contact with a variety of interesting characters.  Here, we first see his "people skills" at work and the gentle, non-confrontational style he brings to his police work.  It's only when a suspect is ripe for the plucking that Maigret's predatory side starts to emerge.

In "Maigret and the Burglar's Wife", a two-bit burglar breaks into a house only to discover the body of a murdered woman, thus becoming an unwilling part of the crime scene!  The man's ex-prostitute wife, an old friend of Maigret, seeks his help in the matter while her husband remains in hiding.  Maigret tries to pry the truth out of the victim's husband, a surly dentist, and his domineering mother in this engaging mystery.

"Maigret Goes to School" concerns a schoolteacher wrongly accused of murder with several witnesses against him.  There's lots of smalltown intrigue in this puzzler that once again lets us see Maigret's sensitive side as he not only solves the murder but tries to help mend the damage surrounding it.

"Maigret and the Mad Woman" is about a cute little old lady who shows up in Maigret's office one day claiming that someone has been breaking into her apartment and rearranging things.  No one takes her seriously until she's found murdered the next day.  Suspicion points to those closest to her, while Maigret blames himself for not acting sooner. 

"Maigret on Home Ground" finds the Chief Inspector back in his hometown after receiving a letter announcing an upcoming murder which will take place there.  "Maigret Sets a Trap" wraps up series one with a serial killer tale that's a real corker, with Maigret easily deducing the killer's identity but finding it extremely difficult to prove.

Minnie Driver guests as a stripper who's murdered in her apartment in "Maigret and the Night Club Dancer", which also features Brenda Blethyn.  This episode allows James Larkin's character of Inspector LaPointe to shine when the novice detective becomes personally involved in the case in an unexpected way.  A woman's body is discovered in the basement of an upperclass hotel in "Maigret and the Hotel Majestic", which finds the detective getting physical with an irate prostitute (Toyah Willcox) and receiving some nasty scratches across one side of his face. 

In "Maigret on the Defensive", the concerned detective rushes to the aid of a young woman in the wee hours of the morning, only to find himself accused of "inappropriate conduct" and the subject of an impending scandal.  "Maigret's Boyhood Friend" features an outstanding performance by Edward Petherbridge as an old but not very fond acquaintance of Maigret who seeks his help after finding himself in the middle of a murder case involving a woman with five different lovers, including himself. 

Perhaps the least interesting episode in the collection, "Maigret and the Minister", starts with the dramatic news of a building collapse in which several children are killed, but soon bogs down in a melange of uninteresting political intrigue that's a bit hard to follow.  Much more entertaining is the series' finale, "Maigret and the Maid", a seriocomic murder mystery which benefits from another superb guest performance from Susie Lindeman, whose delightfully odd character brings out the playful side of both Maigret and actor Michael Gambon.

The 4-disc DVD collection from Acorn Media is in 4:3 full screen with Dolby Digital sound and subtitles in English.  The sole extra is a 7-page booklet entitled "Notes on the Author, the Character, and the TV Series."

While many fictional detectives go out of their way to be bigger, quirkier oddballs than their competitors, it's nice when one turns out to be just a regular guy--who happens to be sort of brilliant.  MAIGRET: COMPLETE COLLECTION is our chance to spend some quality time with this very likable character. 

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