TV - The Durrells

Last night, ITV returned to Corfu for more sun, sea and animals in a third series of hugely popular drama, The Durrells. Read an interview with its star Keeley Hawes...

Written by BAFTA award nominee, Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly, Reggie Perrin), and based on Gerald Durrell’s trilogy of books, The Durrells tells the story of Louisa (Keeley Hawes and her four spirited and unruly children, Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo (Daisy Waterstone) and Gerry (Milo Parker) as they start a new life in Corfu in the 1930s.

In the new series, Louisa has made the decision to give up searching for love, choosing instead to focus on her family. However, with Larry struggling to write his third novel, Margo in search of a new vocation, Gerry continuing to grow his menagerie and Leslie juggling three different girls, Louisa has her work cut out. With an imminent arrival from her Aunt (Barbara Flynn), Louisa hopes that Hermione will be able to help set her children back on the straight and narrow.

Also reprising their roles in the upcoming series are Alexis Georgoulis (Marionetes) as Spiro, Anna Savva (Tyrant) as Lugaretzia, Yorgos Karamihos (Ben - Hur) as Theodore, Lucy Black (Call The Midwife) as Florence, Ulric Von Der Esch (Crossing Lines) as Sven, James Cosmo (SS-GB) as Creech and Leslie Caron (Chocolat) as the Countess Mavrodaki. New faces to join the cast for the series include Miles Jupp (Howard’s End), Henry Lloyd -Hughes (Indian Summers) and newcomer Elli Triggou.

Writer Simon Nye said of adapting the well known novels for the small screen, “Each episode features at least something from Gerald Durrell’s fabulous trilogy. The charismatic Indian guest Prince Jeejeebuoy, Gerry’s beloved wall of insects, Margo’s hobby sculpting soap, Leslie’s burglar-shooting system, Larry’s artist visitors including a frequently naked Henry Miller, and so on. I’ve taken other new elements from historical truth, which Gerald left out of his already highly fictionalised reminiscences. Theo Stephanides, when not being a naturalist-poet-raconteur-polymath, was a radiographer, bringing much needed medical help to the island. Margo agrees to work with him, largely because she likes to see men with their shirts off. Leslie was in reality a part-time member of the Corfu police force, despite or perhaps because of his fondness for shooting anything that moves, so in this series he is seen on the beat.”

And, on filming the show, he added “The wildlife remains a joy - to look at if not to film. It turns out that flamingos are rather highly strung, and make the pelicans look positively professional. We all fell in love with the sloth, and unlike with the other creatures there was no danger that he would make a dash for it - fortunately as we filmed him in England and he would quickly have found himself on notoriously ungulate-averse Ealing Broadway.”

The series is executive produced by Sid Gentle Ltd.’s founder, BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Sally Woodward Gentle (SS-GB, Any Human Heart) and Managing Director Lee Morris (Da Vinci’s Demons, The Damned United) together with Simon Nye. Christopher Hall (Dracula, Critical) is series producer, and Roger Goldby (Call The Midwife, Hustle) and Niall MacCormick (Complicit, The Game) direct the series.

Catch up with the story so far:

Here's the interview with Keeley Hawes:

How do you reflect back on making this third series?

“There’s always a sense of achievement. This time we’ve filmed eight episodes for the first time, instead of six. So along with the tiredness is a great sense of satisfaction that you have made eight hours of television. It’s a lot. And when it’s as good as The Durrells is - which I believe it is - that’s really nice.

“Particularly when you’re back for a third series. You know people like it and everyone has worked out what works and what doesn’t work. I feel we’re all in very capable hands with everyone who makes The Durrells. So, hopefully, it’s just got bigger and better and people will like it.”

Where do we find Louisa when we meet The Durrells again?

“Louisa has decided to give up her search for love and concentrate on herself and the children. Which is not a bad idea judging by her previous involvement with men. The family is still in financial dire straits, but Larry is earning a little bit of money with his writing and some money is trickling in from the market. Even so, they all need to get jobs. Then Aunt Hermione, played by the brilliant Barbara Flynn, comes to visit.”

What is it like returning to Corfu to film another series?

“It’s a second home for us now. When we return to Corfu we don’t need any time at all to get back into the swing of things. Everyone is so brilliant there that we are immediately back to being The Durrells and it all just starts rolling again.

“We filmed earlier in the year this time and so we didn’t really have any rain at all. It was spring time and beautiful. I would advise anybody thinking of going to Corfu to go at that time of the year because it’s just gorgeous.”

How do people on the island react to the production?

“People are always very pleased to see us. And now the series has been going for a few years, when people see the production trucks, they know exactly what it is. There’s lots of shouts of, ‘Oh Mrs. Durrell, Mrs. Durrell!’ It’s just very nice. Always a really positive thing.

“Sometimes people have been looking for us. I went to Corfu Airport to go home for the weekend and was queueing to get on the plane when a lady came up to me with her little girl and said, ‘We’ve been searching for you for 10 days and now we’ve found you!’

“I was still fully done up as Louisa Durrell with my hair and make-up because it had been a mad rush to the airport, so that was good for them. People look for our locations, the house and so on, which is very flattering.”

Louisa returns to England for a visit. Tell us about that?

“Louisa ends up having an adventure in London, which was great fun to film. We filmed in Richmond, Surrey, and it rained non-stop for 12 hours. They had booked rain machines but we didn’t really need them.

“It was a little odd to be back in England filming as this character, but good to take us back to the roots of this family and it was a lovely contrast to the sunshine of Corfu. As much as we love being in Greece, it was good to have that time at home as well.”

We meet the American writer Henry Miller. Is that inspired by real life?

“Larry Durrell knew Henry Miller and invited him to Greece. In the new series we end up with a naked Henry Miller in Corfu. Trevor White, who plays Henry, took off all of his clothes and just went for it. There was nothing shy about it, which is great. It makes it less awkward for everyone and we were all very grown up about it. It’s very funny.”

How do Louisa and Spiro get on in this series?

“We go a bit deeper into their relationship in this series, which is very exciting and easy to play because Alexis Georgoulis, who plays Spiro, is brilliant. We get on so well and really enjoy those scenes.

“It’s a bittersweet thing. Louisa and Spiro would be so good together. They’re both wonderful people but Louisa would never go there because he’s married with a couple of children. It’s 1937 and a very different time. But wait and see what happens.

“We also visit Spiro’s house for the first time in this series. That’s when we get to see a completely different side of him. Louisa has never been to his house and I think people will be very interested in that. It expands the world of The Durrells beyond our house. We’ve been to Sven’s house, to town, the doctor’s and other various locations, but it’s great to go into other characters’ houses.”

How does Louisa react to another foreign family arriving in Corfu?

“Louisa’s nose is put totally out of joint by that. In every way. Spiro helps this new family as he did when the Durrellsfirst arrived. She questions whether Spiro is really her best friend, or if he’s just being polite, as he is to the new family. It really throws her. She becomes very jealous and competitive with them.”

Is Louisa’s Greek improving?

“Louisa hardly speaks any Greek. And she didn’t in real life. Her Greek was famously bad. Callum, who plays Leslie, is very good at it. I’d say he has the most Greek lines to say in this series, but Louisa, thankfully, is supposed to be rubbish at it. As I am. Although I did learn to say, ‘Thank you, my star,’ in Greek. Which people seem to like."

 Are the animals still stealing scenes?

“We have flamingos this time. They are beautiful. And the pelicans were babies when we started and now they are fully grown birds. We know no-one is going to be listening to anything you say when there is an animal in the scene. We’re used to that now.

“And in this series we also have Frank the sloth. That was quite extraordinary because it’s not an animal you get to see very often. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever seen one before. It’s so unusual - just gorgeous and so cute. However, he was very heavy!

“We had scenes written for Gerry (Milo Parker) sitting with the sloth and moving around with it, but it turned out the sloth was too heavy for Milo. His hands were too small. As were Daisy’s (Margo), so they roped me in - which is why I have a scene holding the sloth.

“It really is an extraordinary animal which, of course, decides to become most animated in the back of someone’s close-ups. Then when you want it to do something, it just won’t move. It was amazing to have that on set.”

One episode features a travelling circus. How was that to film?

“The travelling circus was fantastic. It looked beautiful. Simon Nye had so much confidence in all of the departments that work with us, including the art and costume departments. To visualise something like that and have the confidence that people are going to make it work.

“It was so beautiful and jaw-dropping. Everyone has their moment to shine. We were really excited about that episode. In a simpler time before Xbox and things, a circus like that would have been hugely entertaining. It is rather magical, as is The Durrells in lots of way.”

Does Louisa come to terms with both Leslie and, particularly, Gerry growing up?

“There’s a line about how every year the children all move further away from Louisa. ‘The last time I brush your teeth for you, the last time you let me hold your hand as we cross the road.’ It’s heartbreaking. And it’s so true. I do remember the last time I brushed my children’s teeth for them.

“Our writer Simon Nye is so good at that because he’s got children, been there and done it. He deals with all of that so beautifully.

“It’s been really exciting for Milo. He’s had some lovely scenes where Gerry is changing and growing up. It’s great that it’s been addressed because he’s clearly taller than when we started and we’ve got a small moustache on the go.

“Gerry was a real man and he did grow up. I think it’s addressed in a brilliant way with some lovely scenes. Anyone with an angry adolescent will be very sympathetic! It’s a learning curve for all of us.

“There’s one scene involving Gerry which we’ve yet to film involving a poem he’s written about his mother. And I can’t even read the scene without crying my eyes out.

“It always has this added layer when you know these were real people. It’s heartwrenching, but they are some of my favourite scenes. Louisa knows Gerry will grow up and has to accept it. Eventually Louisa’s children did fly the nest.”

Simon Nye describes The Durrells as comforting television that illuminates and celebrates family life. There is obviously a place for that in today’s world?

“I think that’s a lot to do with its success. Exactly that. I’ve got to the point where I don’t want to read the news anymore. The Durrells is very comforting. It’s like the Victoria Sponge of TV, in the loveliest way because it is comforting and you can forget about those other things just for a little while.”

Yet this series also touches on issues of the day, including dictatorship and fascism?

“It deals with all of these issues ahead of the Second World War. And we’re still dealing with them today. It does resonate. The Durrells is not mushy in any way, ever. The cute stuff is always cut with very sharp humour and observation, so it’s never twee.

“That’s what I love about it. It is so clever. It’s such an easy and funny read. That sort of writing is some of the most difficult to do because it’s actually a little bit sharper than you imagine.

“The Durrells were immigrants to Corfu and were completely welcomed. They had a wonderful time in a period where things were about to become very messy.

“It was a very well-timed thing for them to do. For Gerry to have that childhood and that moment. And for all of them to become the people they did. Although not all of them entirely successful. Some had very sad endings. But Louisa did a wonderful thing.”

Images and info - ITV

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