Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Durrells: Captivating Corfu

I know summer has officially arrived, because my DVR has nothing to record anymore. In these times of televisual scarcity, I naturally turn to the UK to give me comfort, so what follows is a series of blog posts about some rather wonderful British TV shows that debuted this year and will keep you entertained till American TV makes its triumphant return in autumn.

One of my favorite books as a child was Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals. The book tells the semi-autobiographical story of the Durrell family, composed of widowed matriarch, Louisa Durrell, and her four children who are all getting sick of each other in the rainy English climate in 1935. So Mrs. Durrell comes up with the only possible solution: "Let's move to Corfu." And just like that, all the family members pick up their lives, move to a country they've never visited before, and proceed to have a grand series of adventures. This book was followed by two others, collectively known as the Corfu Trilogy, and earlier this year, ITV gave us Season 1 of The Durrells, a sun-drenched series based on those books.

Keeley Hawes stars as the hapless Louisa, a woman who loves her children very much but is also quite sick of them. As we are introduced to each family member and their particular passions, we can see how it might be a trial to deal with them, both individually and collectively. There's Larry (Josh O'Connor), the aspiring novelist who continuously posits his theory that his mother's crankiness is due to her lack of a love life. There's Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), the gun-mad loon who doesn't quite understand why it might be unsettling to shoot large guns when people are trying to sleep. Margo (Daisy Waterstone) is the ditzy sister, who is trying (and failing) to attract a boyfriend and can't find any sympathy from her callous brothers. And finally, there's Gerry (Milo Parker), who will grow up to become a celebrated naturalist and the author of these books about his eccentric family. But for now, he's a quiet young boy who is obsessed with animals, and therefore causes mass hysteria by unexpectedly bringing home creatures that terrify his family.

In addition to the family members, we get to meet Spiro (Alexis Georgoulis), the Greek taxi driver who takes charge of the Durrells from the day they land on Corfu and becomes their fast friend, while dispensing all manner of wanted and unwanted advice. There's also Dr. Theo Stephanides (Yorgos Karamihos), a polymath naturalist who becomes Gerry's mentor and teaches him how to cultivate his love for the animal kingdom. All together, they are an extremely motley crew that somehow manage to make it work. Over six episodes we get treated to their various oddities, and the series builds up to a grand finale that is sure to satisfy.

The Durrells is a fun series, but it certainly feels a bit more realistic than the books. The Corfu Trilogy is only semi-autobiographical; Gerald Durrell firmly focused on silliness and never allowed any hint of the real struggles his family may have faced during that time. The show, however, contains some somber twists and turns that ground the whole premise in a more dramatic sensibility. I didn't enjoy that aspect so much, but when you have a period comedy-drama set in sunny Corfu, you can't be bothered to nitpick such details. Instead, you simply gaze at the ocean and the olive trees, heave a contented sigh, and settle in for a blissful six episodes with this crazy family and their menagerie. 

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