‘Durrells in Corfu’ has the class of ‘Downton Abbey’ but with more laughs

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Southern California News Group

“The Durrells in Corfu” — beginning Sunday, Oct. 16 on PBS “Masterpiece” — is an unexpectedly delightful and offbeat family tale.
Based on British naturalist Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical trilogy, it centers on a time when his mother, Louisa (a wonderful Keeley Hawes), moved Gerald and his three siblings to the Greek island of Corfu in the mid-1930s. The widowed Louisa wants her family to escape from civilization; the isle qualified, not even having electricity.

What: Six-part dramedy about a English family that moves to a Greek isle, based on a true story.
When: Premieres at 8 p.m. tonight.
Where: PBS SoCal

Gerald (Milo Parker) at 11 is the youngest of the clan. An animal enthusiast, he in constantly collecting species for his planned zoo. The oldest is 21-year-old Larry, who pounds away on a typewriter and insists he’s a writer, although the others are skeptical at best.
When he does produce a short story, his mother is encouraging. “Larry, we have to talk about your writing. We’ll deal with you being a being a peeping tom later,” she tells him. That exchange gives you a sense of the quirkiness that makes the series so enjoyable.
Meanwhile, Louisa’s daughter Margo (Daisy Waterstone) is becoming a young woman and is beginning to notice the opposite sex. She is also noticing that there are different rules for men and women and isn’t thrilled about it.
The second oldest male is Leslie, who is mad about guns.
“It’s the 1930s, and there is no reason to have a gun,” reasons the fiercely independent Louisa, who a bit later uses a rifle to give a warning shot to an unwanted suitor.
The suitor had been brought around by the children, because as Larry says, “We think the sex will calm you down.”
If the name Durrell rings a bell, it should. Lawrence Durrell was the famed novelist of “The Alexandria Quartet” while naturalist Gerald was known on radio and television. Gerald’s 1956 “My Family and Other Animals” — the first of the trilogy — was a big hit and remains a beloved book.
The series has the sophistication of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” only with more laughs.
There is something quite modern about the Durrells without it feeling false. Louisa is a strong woman who his trying to teach her daughter to be one as well. They both struggle with gender equality, but neither is going to be quiet about it.
Sassiness is in full supply. The family squabbles but is devoted to each other. (Lawrence encouraged his brother to write the autobiography.) The island has plenty of odd characters that show up to keep things interesting, and along the way the series illustrates young Gerry’s interest in nature with some beautiful wildlife scenes.
PBS has wisely scheduled “The Durrells in Corfu” at 8 p.m. It is certainly suited for all ages. The six-part series has an unpredictable, amusing family dynamic most shows would kill for.
Contact Rob Lowman at rlowman@scng.com or @RobLowman1 on Twitter.

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