Meet the Durrells, BBC's new funny family

Johannesburg – The Durrell’s is a warm, funny, feel-good series about a family's adventures on a gorgeous Greek island.

The series debuts on Sunday, 11 June at 20:00 on BBC First (DStv 119).

Based on Gerald Durrell's much-loved Corfu trilogy of novels, The Durrells sees impoverished but sparky widow Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) make the radical decision to seek out a new destiny for her family when her options in late 1930s England seem to be limited to struggling on or marrying a wealthy but dreary older man. 

Concerned that the lives of her four 'children', ranging in age from 11 to 21, are heading down the wrong track, she relocates her reluctant brood to a dilapidated house in the Greek sun.

This beautifully-shot series follows the family as they adjust to their new life, face a whole new set of challenges and meet new friends, rivals, lovers - and animals.

See a trailer here:

Josh O’ Connor plays Lawrence Durrell the eldest of the children, a would be novelist. He sat down for a quick Q&A about his role and what to expect from the series. 

Who is Lawrence Durrell?

Larry is the eldest of the children, the siblings. He is Lawrence Durrell, the famous and brilliant writer, although it was his younger brother Gerry who wrote The Corfu Trilogy of books on which this series is based.

He is working as an estate agent when we first meet the family in Bournemouth. The worst estate agent ever and he knows it. It’s Larry’s idea in the first place to come to Corfu when the family are struggling and much to his surprise his mother takes his advice. So they arrive in Corfu to begin this new life and he’s a bit of a rebel without a cause. A would-be writer at that stage who likes to go out and get drunk and isn’t much help at all to his mother or the rest of the family.”

Were you familiar with the books before this came along?

I knew My Family and Other Animals but I had no idea there was a trilogy. When I was meeting for the part of Larry I obviously looked into it a bit more. It’s a brilliant trilogy. I think the second book is maybe even better than the first.

What did you make of the scripts for The Durrells?

Simon Nye's scripts are amazing. Most television drama tends to be murder mystery or crime drama. Which is great, it’s a formula that works. But I get so excited when I see something else. It’s quirky, brilliant, hilarious and I really loved it when I first read it.

How would you describe the family’s move to Corfu?

It was a really brave thing to do, especially in the 1930s. Now it’s relatively easy to do. You don’t have to pay a fortune to get here on a budget flight. Whereas back then it would have been a huge step, which makes it all the funnier that Larry suggests it and Louisa takes him up on it.

It’s scary now to think about it. Today, Corfu is such a tourist destination and everyone speaks English here. But then the language wouldn’t have been accessible, and no telephone or electricity. How would we cope today? How would you charge your iPad?

What is it like filming in Corfu?

I’d never been to Corfu before. It’s an amazing place and so hot. In fact when we first got here at the height of summer it was oppressive, quite humid. But later in the year it was fine. You could not film this anywhere else. The locations are unique and so beautiful.

The owners of the house we use for the exterior of the Durrells’ house in Corfu use it as a summer house, but it’s been left untouched. They wanted to leave it exactly as it was. We had a week of rehearsals before we started filming which is unheard of. That’s so amazing. We worked out some of the scenes, so we could start filming in Corfu and be well prepared.

Do the Durrells get on with each other?

You need the family at war to appreciate the loving moments. Families do shout at each other but there’s so much love in this family. A lot of the time we’re at loggerheads. But at one stage, for example, Larry takes Leslie out to sort his love problems and Larry says to him, "You’re a decent enough chap." In contrast to Larry’s usual behaviour, that’s the most warm, lovely and heartfelt thing you can imagine.

I’ve got two brothers and I know that I don’t say to them very often that I love them or anything like that. I might say, "You’re brilliant", and then we blush and will be embarrassed. So those little words are telling.

What is it like having Keeley Hawes as your screen mother?

It’s been lovely working with Keeley. I worked with her husband Matthew Macfadyen on Ripper Street and that was great. So I assumed I would get on with her. Keeley has just been brilliant and so intelligent, sweet and open. She is perfect for the role.

Were you skilled at using an old typewriter?

I took Larry’s typewriter back to the hotel for the first week to have a go on it and got a complaint from the next door room about the noise. They were like, "Can you please shut up? Use a laptop." Larry hits the keys hard because he’s so angry with himself. I found that pretty tough. But the joy of television and film is you get people coming and stroking your fingers afterwards.

I also tried to type Larry’s own real lines on the paper just in case those people who check everything they see on TV were watching. We’ve been fairly accurate.

Everyone thinks of Gerry’s books but Lawrence was a writer first. He’s an almost forgotten talent. He was amazing and well respected. Hopefully this will prompt people to seek out his books.

It is fair to say that Larry is obsessed with sex?

Yes, definitely, he is 100% obsessed with sex. I love that. I think most writers are. The ‘x’ on his typewriter has been removed by his family so he can’t write ‘sex’ so much. But I don’t think it stops him. He just writes about it more when he eventually gets it back.

Larry has a young woman he left behind in England?

She appears in the later episode. That’s a beautifully written relationship and hilarious. He seems like one of the hell raisers but it’s nice to think of him settling down. She stands up to him and that’s what Larry needs.

Aside from Corfu, do you have a paradise you would like to escape to?

I’ve been up to Scotland and Loch Lomond, but my dream is to go to the Hebrides. For me, that is the absolute paradise.

Don't miss The Durrells on Sunday at 20:00 on BBC First (DStv 119).

(Photos supplied: BBC)

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