Written by Camilla King

Arts

Animal magic

The 1980s Gerald Durrell TV adaptations were essential viewing for a young Camilla King. Luckily The Durrells lives up to her high expectations.

The cast of The Durrells, both family and other animals. All photos: ITV.

The cast of The Durrells, both family and other animals. All photos: ITV.

The Durrells is ITV’s latest attempt to grab a slice of that tasty Sunday night audience pie, with a new adaptation of Gerald Durrell’s much-loved trilogy of novels about his time growing up on Corfu in the 1930s.

Normally I avoid the 8pm Sunday telly slot, not being a massive fan of The Antiques Roadshow or the usual saccharine offerings over on ITV (I want to say Gone with the Spirit Animals, but the internet assures me that what I actually mean is Wild at Heart), but I confess I have a vested interest in The Durrells.

Way back in 1987, the BBC made an adaptation of the first book in Durrell’s trilogy, My Family and Other Animals, and it was the televisual event of my childhood (closely followed by The Darling Buds of May).

I wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch Dallas, and I hid behind the sofa for Doctor Who, but the Durrell family’s capers were essential Sunday night family viewing in our household.

“A rewatch of the Beeb’s original with British actors playing all the Greek characters is squirm-inducing, so it’s a relief that ITV have actual Greek actors playing the actual Greek people.”

The BBC’s stunning adaptation sparked a huge obsession for me with all things Gerald Durrell (in particular his novels for older children, The Talking Parcel and Catch Me a Colobus which are a fantastically trippy cross between Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl).

As a kid, growing up beside the sparkling Ionian sea, dolphins leaping through the waves, with no school, sun-drenched days and lovable old Brian Blessed playing a shouty Greek taxi driver was my idea of heaven.

And so it was that I approached the newfangled ITV series with some trepidation. Luckily it stars Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell, widowed and exasperated matriarch, and fan of drinking gin from a teacup. Hawes is perfection, as always. Seriously, does she ever put a foot wrong? I love her.

Unlike the old BBC series, which as in the books followed life through the eyes of 10-year-old Gerry, in this first episode Simon Nye’s new adaptation puts the focus squarely on Louisa. With her lazy and ungrateful children, dislike of Gerry’s draconian school and penchant for a mid-morning tipple she feels like a thoroughly modern mother and Hawes’s long-suffering performance is spot-on (there’s a chance I might be projecting a bit, here).

Durrells 2The rest of the cast feels well pitched, too. A rewatch of the Beeb’s original with British actors playing all the Greek characters is squirm-inducing, so it’s a relief that ITV have actual Greek actors playing the actual Greek people. And very good they all are.

My only gripe would be that with all the plotting to get Louisa Durrell laid, some of the innocence and fascination with nature which is at the heart of the books is lost. Yes, Gerry brings plenty of flora and fauna into the house, leaving everyone else shrieking, but Keeley Hawes is definitely the star of the show. I hope Gerry gets more screen time as the series progresses, because Milo Parker, the young actor who plays the role, is delightful.

The Durrells is a perfect antidote to a time of year when the weather hasn’t quite caught on that summer is just around the corner and insists on hailing every time you leave the house. This truly is Sunday night telly at its comfort-blanket best, and if its dazzling Greek scenery and gentle humour topped off with classy performances doesn’t melt your heart just a little, you need to watch some more baby animal videos on YouTube.

@millking2301

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Written by Camilla King

Freelancer in the arts. Unwilling expert on Batman, dinosaurs and poo (there are children) and running widow of @UpDownRunner. Lover of music, cake and lady stuff. @millking2301

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