Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Durrells in Corfu

Larry, at the right, would have liked it that the series portrays him as a foot taller than he really was.
I was avoiding looking at The Durrells, the new ITV series based on Gerald Durrell's Corfu Trilogy, the one-volume book comprising My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives; and The Garden of the Gods.  But then someone phoned and said it was not without charm and so I took a peek.  And I smiled.

This is not another remake of My Friends and Other Animals; it also includes material from the other two volumes.  And it contains more, some biographical material which alters the perspective entirely.  What had once been exclusively a child's view of his family and Corfu now becomes a story seen from multiple views, from that of brothers Larry and Leslie, from sister Margo, and most particularly from that of their mother Louisa Durrell.

For example in My Family and Other Animals Gerry mentions his father only once, first indirectly to say his mother is a widow, the second time in a brief exchange with a local who asks about his father and Gerry says his father is dead.  And that is it, not only in My Family and Other Animals but in the other two books as well. 

Nor does Gerry ever mention the drinking habits of his mother.  But the first episode of The Durrells opens with Louisa knocking back a large straight gin poured from a hidden bottle.

Gerry had never explained why the family came to Corfu beyond a facetious scene in which Larry describes his family as medical specimens, all of them ill thanks to the English weather.  And off they go to Corfu.  But of course it was not like that, and the dead father and the heavily drinking mother were primary causes, and an effort to conserve the inheritance from Mr Durrell, and - strongly intimated in these opening scenes - Larry somewhat stepping into his father's shoes and taking responsibility for his mother and also for his small brother Gerry.

Louisa holding the framed photograph of the real-life Lawrence Samuel Durrell, who 'selfishly', as she puts it, dies young and leaves her to raise the menagerie.
In each of the opening two episodes Louisa picks up a framed photograph of her dead husband suggesting that it is the loss of him that has led her to drink and led also to the chaotic and untameable behaviour of her children.  The camera moves in on the photograph and it turns out that it really is Lawrence Samuel Durrell, a remarkable civil engineer who died young of a brain tumour.  This was the event that brought the family first from India to England and then a few years later from England to Corfu.

The story of the Durrells in Corfu, 'not without charm', began in tragedy.  And for all the laughter, the amusing chaos, the seeming idyll, the tragedy was always there.  The Durrells does not take this very far; we are still given the magic and the idyll; but it does intimate that something more was going on than Gerry would ever admit as he turned to his world of animals.