REVIEW: The Durrells is a charming and funny tribute to Gerald Durrell’s incredible legacy
Television and film has long told the stories of famous men. ITV’S latest offering does not break from the trend: the renowned late naturalist Gerald Durrell was the founder of Jersey’s Durrell Wildlife Park, which is home to an assortment of rare and endangered animals and attracts around 169,000 visitors every year despite its out of the way location. However, Gerald – or Gerry, as his family called him – is today best known for a series of books about his family and life as a youngster in the idyllic Corfu.
His most famous book “My Family and Other Animals” is the subject for a charming ITV adaptation, which tells the story of Gerry’s (Milo Parker) formative years, when the family emigrated to Corfu. Up to their eyes in debts and living a miserable life in England, widowed mother Louisa (Keeley Hawes) takes heed of the suggestion of eldest son Larry (Josh O’Connor) to move to Corfu in search of a better life. As the family of five – mum Louisa, struggling writer Larry, gun-obsessed Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), sunbathing fan Margo (Daisy Waterstone) and animal lover Gerry – set up home in the Mediterranean, they must learn to adapt to a culture and lifestyle of which they know little in order to make the lives they have dreamed for themselves.
The books are so beloved that a wrong turn on this adaptation might have been catastrophic, but thankfully, ITV’s The Durrells beautifully recreates the charm and innocence of family life that so entertained readers of Durrell’s novels. It is a real testament to the efforts of screenplay writer Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly), and also the genuine chemistry from the actors playing the oddball Durrell family.
Milo Parker is both completely natural and adorable as the eleven-year-old Gerry, perfectly embodying the wide-eyed-curiosity of a young Gerald Durrell. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of Parker’s talent in the future. Meanwhile Keeley Hawes is prone to overacting (I’m sure I felt her spit on my face while I was watching that scene in the headmaster’s office), but nonetheless does a good job of portraying the Durrell family matriarch – a woman who stands for no nonsense from anyone and easily the most complex character of the series so far.
One criticism I had – which probably stems from the series’ comedy roots – is the lack of character definition for each of the children beyond one defining trait. Larry is an aspiring writer and – like all writers – obsessed with sex; Leslie is a gun-aholic; Margo believes she is dimwitted; while Gerry cannot keep away from the exotic wildlife Corfu has to offer. The Durrells is clearly going for more complex than a simple comedy, showing glimpses of depth in the struggles of Louisa and Margo’s discovery of gender inequality, but these are only hints from a show that is difficult to define in terms of genre. The faster the children can be fleshed out like Louisa, the better. Perhaps there were simply too many characters in a 45 minute opening episode that also introduced us to friendly local Spiro Hakaiopulos, Gerry’s biologist friend Theo Stephanides, as well as a new housekeeper and a prospective husband for Louisa.
Nevertheless, The Durrells is a genuinely funny and heartwarming new series, and a wonderful addition to the landscape of television. Honestly, television needs more shows like this – about a wholesome if unpredictable family with a genuine dynamic, with lots of laughs in between.