Spring might not have shown its true colours yet, but rays of Greek sun have been sneaking into Australian houses through The Durrells. The new British series, airing on Wednesdays on Channel Seven, tells the story of a rather unusual English family in 1930s Corfu.
It all started in 1935, when Louise Durrell, took her four children − her husband had died − and moved from England to Corfu. As unusual as such a decision might be at the time, it would still be unworthy of mention had it not been for one not-so-small detail: two of her children, Larry and Gerry, turned out to figure among the most beloved authors of English literature.
Lawrence Durrell is now considered one of the most significant writers of the 20th century, mostly due to his ‘Alexandria Quartet’, but it is his younger brother who is responsible for making the family widely known.
A naturalist, conservationist and zookeeper, Gerald Durrell created an army of devoted readers savouring his wry sense of humour, which is best displayed in classic memoirs such as My Family and Other Animals. It is this book and the others that form the ‘Corfu trilogy’ (Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods), which serve as the basis for The Durrells.
The series started off with a six-episode run in UK’s ITV in 2016, programmed in the Sunday slot previously occupied by Downtown Abbey, and proved to be an instant success, securing a second season to air in 2017. It revolves around the daily lives of the quirky, eccentric matriarch (portrayed to perfection by Keeley Hawes) and her four inappropriately behaving children (Milo Parker as Gerry Durrell, Josh O’Connor as Larry Durrell, Daisy Waterstone as Margo Durrell and Callum Woodhouse as Leslie Durrell), not to mention the Noah’s ark of animals that little Gerry brings to the house, as the family escapes financial hardships in England to find haven in Corfu, at a time when electricity had not yet arrived to the island.
Although being a drama at its core, the series is full of warmth, humour and feelgood optimism, not to mention Greek light.
The Durrells is also a love letter to Corfu, which is presented as an idyllic environment, despite the culture clash between the eccentric family and the largely conservative social environment of the era. Critics and audience have praised the series for its tone, style, and overall quality and named it a worthy successor to Downtown Abbey. Durrell’s books have seen a spike in sales.
Apart from the main cast of characters, the series features two much-beloved Greek actors in recurring supporting roles: Alexis Georgoulis features as Spiros, a taxi driver and all-around Mr Fixit, while Yorgos Karamihos (who also features in the recent remake of Ben-Hur) plays one of the unsung heroes of the Greek intelligentsia of the ’30s, Theodore Stephanides. A poet, writer, medical doctor and naturalist, Stephanides was Gerald Durrell’s mentor and this relationship forms part of some of the best segments in the series.
* The final episode of The Durrells airs on Channel Seven on Wednesday at 8.30 pm. Previous episodes can be found online at the Plus7 video on demand service.