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TV review: The Durrells is easy-viewing with added charm

PUBLISHED: 00:32 23 March 2018

The cast of The Durrells (C) ITV

The cast of The Durrells (C) ITV

Archant

It’s like The Darling Buds of May do Corfu but that’s a good thing. Escaping to Greece for an hour every Sunday night makes Monday feel far further away than it really is

“Dear Aunt Hermoine, I hope Belgium was good and this letter reaches you safely...We are all happy. Larry is writing his third novel which is more than Lesley has read and Les has a girlfriend, Daphne but won’t let us meet her. Margo has ditched her boyfriend Zoltan because we begged her to and Gerry, as ever, prefers his animal family to his human one. I have given up looking for love so with all my new free time I’m thinking of learning the harp or getting a cello between my legs. Time just for me. It is gorgeous here…”

So opened the first episode of the new series of The Durrells as Keely Hawes’ Louisa Durrell stopped advertising Ford Fiestas and started offering viewers a fat slice of exposition in glorious Corfu, which on an Arctic night in the East, probably single-handedly caused a spike in online traffic to estate agents (especially as it was followed by the Good Karma Hospital, set somewhere equally sun-baked: India).

Tracking shots across azure seas, golden sands, rugged countryside, sun-dappled groves practically made me weep with envy before Louisa stopped writing to her aunt and walked back to her equally gorgeous house – then real life kicked in and the teenagers started complaining. Then I really felt at home.

The Durrells is based on three autobiographical books by Gerald Durrell about the four years his family lived on the Greek island from 1935. Moving to Corfu with her four children following the death of her husband, Louisa looked for a more tranquil life: it had been tough being DI Lindsay Denton in the Line of Duty.

Back in Durrell-time and Margo (Daisy Waterstone) felt rudderless without Zoltan (her mother suggested she get a hobby), melodramatic dramatist Larry tripped over the dog and injured his leg and Leslie was seen practically in flagrante delicto with a young lady by the water’s edge. Gerry (Milo Parker) was busy collecting pelicans and flamingos.

Later that evening, Louisa tried to tackle Leslie (Callum Woodhouse) about his menagerie of women having horrified housekeeper Lugaretzia (who looks uncannily like Al Pacino in a wig) who had seen him with one girl and already mentally married him off to her. But Leslie was unrepentant: “This makes up for the time when I had no girlfriends,” he said, “if you average it out, I have one girlfriend.”

The next day, Louisa asked Spiros (Alexis Georgoulis) to have a man-to-man chat about promiscuity to Leslie, which he set about with glee, telling the young man about his own teenage years while he thought Louisa wasn’t listening: “I was like a cat in a mouse house. Happy times. Enjoy it while you can, because…” he changed gear as he realised he had a maternal audience...“so to recount - what are you doing? The love of one good woman is…nice.”

Margot finds a hobby: soap carving (“...it seems stupid, but so do a lot of things…like hockey. And feet. And testicles”), Aunt Hermione turns up, family friend Florence fails to bond with her newborn (“He’s a little Adonis,” cooed Louisa, “Leslie was a monstrous troll of a baby…”) and there’s a Durrell-esque farce involving a misunderstanding, a tea party, three girlfriends and a hell-hath-no-fury showdown. It’s all a bit of a pickle.

The Durrells practically defines easy-watching but that’s not to say it’s anodyne: Simon Nye’s dialogue is pacey and funny and the plot moves just quickly enough and then, of course, there’s Corfu, which has a starring role, especially when there’s a blizzard outside and your toes are numb.

In essence, the show is The Darling Buds of May in Greece without Pop Larkin, All Creatures Great and Small on tour without Herriot, Heartbeat without the crime and with 99 per cent more sunshine – everyone is charmingly dotty, old-timers are quaintly gruff, situations are endlessly comedic and nothing is remotely taxing which is just as it should be on a Sunday night when we’re all contemplating the inexorable grind of another Monday.

The one-liners help enormously (for example, when Louisa tried to explain to her daughter what a pseudonym was, Margo shot back: “I know what a pseudonym is. Don’t confuse boredom with ignorance”) but the stand-out performance in a show full of great performances belongs to Hawes, whose performance is so nuanced that it makes your heart sing: as a widow, she manages to convey every emotion attached to being the sole parent to four wild kidults – pride, joy, frustration, humour, concern, fear and above all, love. Wonderful.

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