The Durrells in Corfu and Other Nasty Animals

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Don’t you just hate it when a preview gives away all the good stuff in a show? That’s how I feel about The Durrells in Corfu (2016) — much like an action movie preview that’s filled with all the best explosions or a rom-com preview that’s chock full of the only jokes in the flick, the previews online and on PBS for this British series set in the 1930s looked hilariously witty and fun. But stretched out over the first few episodes I’ve suffered through, UGH, not funny at all. There are some clever bits, but only after long, tedious stretches of people being awful jerks to each other, and not in a fascinating or revealing way.

In short, the widowed mom (played by Keeley Hawes, who’s been in a ton of British costume dramas) takes her four wretched children from England to the Greek island of Corfu because it’s cheap and she thinks they’ll have great family bonding opportunities. But she forgets that her kids — a grown son who’s a writer, an almost-grown son obsessed with guns, a teenaged boy-crazy daughter, and an super-outdoorsy little boy — are all selfish bastards. The six-part series is based on Gerald Durrell’s ‘Corfu trilogy’ of semi-autobiographical books: My Family and Other Animals (1956), Birds, Beasts, and Relatives (1969), and The Garden of the Gods (1978). And it’s been renewed by ITV for a second series, if you want to really punish yourself. If Gerald’s family were really like these wretched characters, no wonder he preferred the company of animals to people.

The Durrells in Corfu (2016)

Much of what’s irritating about the story is the hugely ethnocentric attitude this British family has toward the people around them in Corfu. Aside from two characters, naturalist Dr. Theo Stephanides and cab driver/all-around good-guy Spiros Halikiopoulos, the local Greeks are treated as stranger foreigners, indecipherable oddities, merely obstacles to be dealt with, not legitimate independent people who should be understood on their own terms. And really, Dr. Theo and Spiros are only there to serve the needs of the Durrells and act as go-betweens with other Greeks. Most interactions the family has with the locals are of the ‘we’re British, we know best’ variety. It’s a genre that’s been done to death.

If you can get over THAT hurdle, then you still have to deal with the family’s interrelations, which are just unrelentingly nasty. Only sporadically is it funny, mostly it’s just depressing or annoying. I don’t need a passel of likable characters, but I don’t even understand any of these people. Why are they such shits to each other? Why do they stick together if they hate each other so much? There’s no sense of familial affection or tradition or anything holding them together, and they don’t have any money, there is literally no reason to be together when they’re all such assholes to each other (except for Gerry, the little boy, who isn’t a total jerk, and obviously, being so young, does depend on his mom).

The older two boys, Larry and Leslie, need to just leave home and do whatever dissolute things they have their minds set to. Margo, the girl, should hook up with some rando dude, get knocked up and married, so she has an excuse to leave the house, since she appears to have zero ambition in life. Then the mother can raise Gerry to be a zoologist and that kid can have a shot at a decent life. But nobody asked me for advice, and apparently, in real life, these kids turned out OK. The real Lawrence Durrell was a prize-winning novelist and Gerald Durrell did establish a zoo (the other two didn’t turn out dead in a ditch anywhere, so I guess that’s a win). I’m sure plenty of real details were left out of the books, plus this specific adaption probably changed up the characters more. But if this were my family, I’d have run screaming into the night.

Costumes in The Durrells in Corfu

It’s the 1930s, not hard to get this right for a British production. The family is middle-class and when they go to Greece, they’ve sold most everything, which limits their wardrobe. Basically, each character has just a couple “best” outfits and then a lot of everyday casual clothes. The color palette is both period-appropriate and well-suited to the Greek location — soft greens, blues, and khakis predominate with accents of pale yellow and creamy coral.

The Durrells in Corfu (2016)

Margo offends the locals with her two-piece swimsuit (which wouldn’t have been called a “bikini” yet, but is historically appropriate otherwise).

The Durrells in Corfu (2016)

She does wear a more modest one-piece later.

The Durrells in Corfu (2016)

Hard to see, but Margo has some amazing ’30s prints going on in her sportswear.

The Durrells in Corfu (2016)

Margo’s dress has excellent prints, color, and cut for the era. Both daughter and mother have great hair too.

The Durrells in Corfu (2016)

One of the mother’s rare “fancy” dresses — the collar and sleeve trim pick up the print’s colors perfectly.

 

Are the sweet ’30s clothing, cute animals, and pretty Greek seaside enough to make you tune in to The Durrells, despite the nasty people?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

16 Responses

  1. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    I think it depends on whether you know the books well – not seen these, but I read all the books as a kid, and even though they could all be pretty awful to each other, there’s also a ton of affection and random acts of kindness, and they clearly had a shared sense of humour which could be quite deadpan. Was recently reminded of this exchange from the books.

    “‘It’s all your fault, Mother,’ said Larry austerely; ‘you shouldn’t have brought us up to be so selfish.’
    ‘I like that!’ exclaimed Mother. ‘I never did anything of the sort!’
    ‘Well we didn’t get as selfish as this without some guidance,’ said Larry.”

    Also, the books show that there were a LOT of friendships among the family and the Greeks, not just Theo and Spiro. Sounds like the adaptation isn’t that great as an adaptation…..

    Reply
  2. Susan Pola

    I also was turned off by the irritating Family. Maybe I’ll watch on DVD where I can fast forward. Costumes were okay, but as I previously mentioned it was irritating, so I didn’t really look.

    Reply
  3. amy towle

    Maybe it’s more of a British sensibility, I found it pretty charming (I have read the books though) it was very popular in the UK too. Most of the costumes are original 30s pieces from Cosprop.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Not surprised that the costumes are originals — it’s a very lovely show to look at! Excellent art direction, not just by using period pieces, but the choices.

      Reply
  4. Amy

    I completely agree! I remember loving the previous TV movie “My Family and Other Animals” from 2005 with Imelda Staunton as the mother and Matthew Goode as Larry. The family seemed real, but overall loving and amusing. I barely got through two episodes of this new version, even though the set and costumes are lovely. Like Downton, I just couldn’t watch people being so utterly awful to each other.

    Reply
  5. Kathryn MacLennan

    I’ve become invested in Gerry and his animals. He has a pet pelican that he takes on walks!

    Reply
  6. Barbara

    I actually love the realism of the constant bickering and taking each other for granted. They do love each other but they’re each going through tremendous transitions–the younger ones to adulthood, Gerry to a teen, Larry to a professional writer, and Mum to a dating single woman again. All done in a new locale, a new language and on very little money. They’re “Brit-centric” behavior seems appropriate for the time period. Beautifully done and well acted!

    Reply
  7. Kathleen Norvell

    I hated the series — really stupid boring people with typical Brit ethnic superiority attitude. But I did like the clothing, even when the two-piece bathing suit was called a “bikini” (cringe). The dresses were lovely. Otherwise, a yawn.

    Reply
  8. janette

    This series really does divide opinions. I enjoyed it, perhaps because I watched it in the middle of winter. Having teenage sons also helped as I could relate to the Mother , and Keeley Hawes was wonderful as always.Under all the familial bickering there is a lot of affection I felt that came across more in the later episodes. Even Margot improves as the series progresses. She is almost tolerable by the end and the second son is so clearly “messed up” that he becomes pitiable rather than detestable.
    And the setting and costumes made up for a lot of other failings such as the shoehorned in romance and the lack of locals.

    Reply
  9. Karen K.

    That’s disappointing. I saw the 2005 adaptation and loved it, and I really enjoyed the first book in the series (though I must admit I couldn’t get through the second). I can’t access PBS here in Germany but I was hoping to watch the series on DVD eventually. I think I’ll still give it a try as I’m a die-hard Masterpiece fan.

    Reply
  10. Sonya Heaney

    Here it was just called “The Durrells”. Australia tried to market it as “the next Downton Abbey”, which I thought was absolutely ridiculous.
    I never got around to watching The Durrells, but it does give the impression (from the gazillion ads I’ve seen) that it is one that would appeal more to Brits and maybe people in the British Commonwealth.
    But I don’t see myself watching it, as the 1930s are about my least favourite years in all of history, so it holds little appeal to me.

    Reply
  11. Susan Pola

    I take back what I previously said about this show.

    I love it. I checked it out from the library and realised it wasn’t Larry having sex in his mother’s home, but a lot more.

    Gerry is a darling child and I love his love of animals. Louisa, the mother is trying to survive on her widows pension. Margo USA teen finding herself and Leslie, well, I’m not really sure.

    They bond when they move to Corfu.

    Reply
  12. David Murphy

    Obnoxious middle class drama which never really explains why this peculiar group of ex-pat misfits garnered enough dosh to move to Greece or how they are living while there. The mum-centered family set up suits today’s single parent vibe. The plum in the voice accents with their accompanying inherent snobbish superiority ensure seamless continuity from the cringeworthy Downtown Abbey that made Upstairs Downstairs look like a work of Shakespeare. Dreamy escapist filming of a Corfoite landscape that no longer exists (except on some rich bastxrd’s private gated estate like the Rothschilds) and has been replaced by an avalanche of cheap concrete package holiday resorts, amenities and totally nondescript villas with tiny pools and an annual deluge of the white working class trash that has turned what used to be paradise on earth on the southern tip of the island into hell on earth with the morality of a modern day Babylon. And this is the show swimming across the nation’s screens that is bigged up here as popular and joyous.

    Give me unpopular and miserable any day rather than this escapist tripe. I think Gerald would have been disgusted!

    Reply

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