From Montmartre to the remote French countryside, Maigret encounters the dark side of the human psyche. Yet, he manages to maintain both compassion and a sense of humor as he explores the complex motives that lie behind every crime.
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Great Psychological Exploration of Georges Simenon
There are two great Maigret adaptations available online or in DVDs from the 1990s, the British version done by Granada for two seasons in 1992, starring Michael Gambon, and the Dune French version that lasted from 1991 until 2005 with Bruno Cremer. Both have strong qualities, although in many ways they are completely opposite. Gambon's Maigret is affable, poetic, emotional, sympathetic, and works in close concert with his men; his Paris (Budapest) is sunny and bright. Cremer's Maigret is taciturn and intense, preferring to wait silently while people reveal themselves, riding his men hard at times, especially the often incompetent officers he encounters outside of Paris; and his Paris (Prague) is always gray or pitch black, dark wet streets, his pipe glowing. In many ways the visual look of the shows are opposite, with the British series relying more on the romance and nostalgia of Paris, while the French series is a showcase for the dark psychological mysteries of Simenon. The French series hews more closely to the original stories, and also has the advantage of the episodes being 30 minutes longer; it is also a more complete canon, with nearly 5 times as many stories. In the Gambon series, Gambon is more pleasant, his men work with him as a clever team, and we see much more of Mme. Maigret, who appears in nearly every episode, but the humor and the characterizations are typically British, which can be somewhat disconcerting. The Cremer Maigret varies in quality with the directors, but he is almost always brilliant, playing his hunches and guiding his investigations with a deep psychology that truly honors the original Simenon novels. And it goes almost without saying, the French version pulls no punches and has a much darker way of exploring aspects of the French character that the heart of Simenon; Cremer spends a lot of time listening to people and asks questions which seem strange but reveal hidden truths. Gambon's Maigret does more of the talking and seems to succeed more through luck and teamwork, which may be failings of the shorter format and the transition from French to English storytelling. I'm fond of them both, but the Cremer Maigret is one of my favorite television programs, with plenty to love, at over 75 hours. It is also possible to watch the Cremer Maigret's over and over, picking out new clues and details, but there is no such depth to Gambon's Maigret.
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