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