The Durrells in Corfu on PBS: What American Audiences Should Know

Deborah Gilbert | October 10, 2017

The Durrells, that comically dysfunctional family of British expats, are back for another season of The Durrells in Corfu – Masterpiece on PBS.

August 2020 Note: This British Telly Dish blog was published in 2017; the four seasons of The Durrells in Corfu – Masterpiece and the documentary What the Durrells Did Next (2019) can be streamed by PBS station members and is occasionally rebroadcast.

Sometimes the sophomore season of a series can be a letdown, but from what I’ve seen, I’d say the opposite is true for The Durrells in Corfu. I’ve screened the first episode already, and things have only gotten better. The Durrell family has a new well-manicured nemesis/landlord making things harder for them (think Greece’s answer to Natasha Nogoodnik), but Mama Louisa hatches a plan for getting solvent (and her lazy kids actually help out a bit). The scheme all boils down to two words: British cuisine. I know what you’re thinking, but like the villagers of Corfu, you need to give it a chance – I know I would!

Top 10 Essentials of The Durrells in Corfu

The Durrells in Corfu. Shown l to r: Milo Parker as Gerald Durrell, Anna Savva as Lugaretzia, Josh O’Connor as Lawrence Durrell, Daisy Waterstone as Margo Durrell, Callum Woodhouse as Leslie Durrell, and Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell. Photo: Sid Gentle Films and MASTERPIECE

10. The Family Roots

In case you missed the first season of The Durrells in Corfu on Masterpiece, the series follows the adventures of the real-life Durrell family during the four years they lived on the Greek island of Corfu, 1935 to 1939, that innocent time before the outbreak of WWII. Of course, it’s not all quite as simple as that. On this side of the pond the Durrells are largely unknown, but in the UK much has been written about the family (more on that, below). Mother Louisa Durrell was Anglo-Irish, and all the Durrell children were born in India and grew up there until their father’s sudden death about seven years before the action starts. They had moved back to Old Blighty, to grey Bornemouth, where they missed the sunny skies of India. Struggling financially after her husband’s death, Mrs. Durrell makes the bold choice to sell their house move her family to Corfu, Greece, where the cost of living is much lower and the skies are much sunnier. It’s sort of like what the Brady Bunch would have been for Carol, if Mike had died, Jan was in love with a monk, Alice secretly seethed with hatred for the kids (who mostly lazed around the house all day), and there were no feel-good lessons at the end.

9. Is the Locale Greek to You?

In case you were wondering about the geography, Corfu is an island in the Ionian Sea, off the west coasts of Greece and its neighbor to the north, Albania.

8. Binge Baby, Binge

If you need to catch up before Season 2 begins on Sunday, October 15, become a THIRTEEN member and binge watch the six episodes of The Durrells in Corfu: Season 1 with the THIRTEEN Passport benefit.

7. What are Scotch Eggs?

An important part of the premiere episode’s plot hangs on the quality of an eggceptional snack: Scotch eggs. Much like the Durrell family, these delicacies, not so well known here, are very common in the UK. But don’t get too excited; there is no scotch in them, and they are not from Scotland either. It seems they are the British version of New York City’s chocolate egg cream (ie; no eggs, no cream). Scotch eggs were originally created in 1738 by famed Piccadilly fine food purveyor (and Royal Warrant holder) Fortnum & Mason, official grocer to Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II. Now available everywhere, they have become a staple of both fancy tables and picnics alike. In case you’ve never had the pleasure, a Scotch Egg is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, then coated in breadcrumbs and baked or deep-friend. If you’d like to give them a try, you can find them (made fresh) at British grocer Myers of Keswick in New York City‘s own Greenwich Village!

Other British foods to make an appearance in the opening Durrells in Corfu episode are Toad in the Hole (sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter), and Spotted Dick (a dessert of suet and dried fruit), both of which are equally mystifying to the locals. And if you thought spotted dick was weird enough just as a concept/name, the British subsidiary of Heinz has, for years, made spotted dick in a can (though just recently they switched to a plastic, microwaveable tub), also available at Myers of Keswick. Run out and get yours to snack on while viewing!

Shown from left to right: Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell and Josh O’Connor as Larry. Photo: John Rogers/Sid Gentle Films for MASTERPIECE

6. Upstairs, Downstairs Star Power

Mama Durrell is played by Keeley Hawes, best known (to me, at least) for her star turn on the recent reboot of the Masterpiece classic Upstairs Downstairs (a show that was cancelled by the BBC too soon, in my opinion). When last we saw of the inhabitants of 165 Eaton Place, they were walking off into the night just as the first blackout sirens sounded before the Blitz – leaving us all to wonder whatever happened to them. Keeley gave this interview to The Independent just before the new season of The Durrells in Corfu premiered in the UK. Read what she has to say about how The Durrells has ‘re-ignited her own enthusiasm’ for acting.

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5. Moving Abroad

Have you ever thought about doing what the Durrell family did: moving abroad where the cost of living is cheaper? The Next Avenue PBS blog reports what destinations are considered the best for retirement and the best places to go. Sadly, Corfu isn’t on the list.

The Durrells in Corfu, Season 2. The home. Photo: John Rogers/Sid Gentle Films for Masterpiece

4. Television Tourism

You don’t have to go to stay; you can just visit. With the wild popularity of Downton Abbey, its real-life locale, Highclere Castle, has become a major tourist destination, helping to keep the roof on the place (before Downton Abbey, Highclere worried about falling into ruin). Nearby Bampton Village has had similar tourist traffic, which has helped the village restore the old school, used as the exterior location for the cottage hospital that Violet and Isobel (and Cora) spent so much time dueling over. If you are similarly inspired to play the telly tourist and trace the Durrells’ footsteps in Corfu, this article from the London Telegraph is a good starting place. Bon voyage!

Shown from left to right: Nikos Orestis Chaniotakis as Pavlos and Daisy Waterstone as Margo. Photo: John Rogers/Sid Gentle Films for MASTERPIECE.

3. Durrell Books

The Durrells of Corfu TV series is based on Gerald Durrell’s three books, My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives; and The Garden of the Gods (also known as The Corfu Trilogy). As an adult, Gerald (Gerry) became a well known naturalist and zoologist and both he and Laurence (Larry) became two of the most prominent English writers of the 20th century. Because of this, and their unique childhood story, the lives of the Durrells have been extensively explored and mined for material. Gerald’s books have previously been made into a BBC series and a TV movie. And on top of Gerald’s books there have been numerous other books about the Durrell family, including a memoir by sister Margaret (Margo; 1920–2007), who didn’t much like the way she was depicted in her brother’s books. She penned Whatever Happened to Margo? in 1951, but the memoir, hidden in an attic, was only discovered decades later by her granddaughter and then published with a preface by brother Gerald. It is currently out of print, but if you look on Amazon you’ll see that some collectors are selling copies for a lot of money! Too bad we can’t time travel back to the 1930’s and give some of that dosh to poor mother Louisa, who is desperately trying to pay the rent!

2. The Way They Weren’t

You may or may not want to know that, according to some, the life of the Durrells was not as sweet and comical as it appears in the show. In the UK there has been criticism that all of the productions of their family life have been sanitized for TV, that there was a darker side and family issues that were left out. (Sigh. Can’t we have any fun? Do these critics really think The Waltons had all that much fun up on their mountain in Virginia during the Great Depression?)

You can find more of the Durrell back story in this article about a recent book about the family, written by family friend Michael Haag. While his book The Durrells of Corfu does delve into their deeper issues, it is an affectionate look at the family, detailing more about their later lives as well. You’ll find interesting tidbits in this review of Michael Haag’s book by a writer who’s also a fan of Gerald’s books.

1. The Durrells in the Future?

With success comes criticism. The first season of The Durrells in Corfu was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award, so it is acknowledged as a high quality series. All the theatrical productions about the Durrells are based on Gerald’s books, and given that he was a young child at the time, it makes sense that we are seeing the Durrells’ story through innocent eyes. The rest of the Durrells’ story would have made it a different (but also valid) show – just not a light comedy. From what I’ve read, it seems that a larger picture about their lives would be pretty interesting as well, and maybe one day someone will produce that and we’ll see it on Masterpiece as well. Rebecca Eaton, are you listening?

What do you think? Are you looking forward to another season of family adventure on the island of Corfu? Would you like to see the lives of the Durrells explored further in another series? What say you?

Join the conversation in the comments section below, or on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #DurrellsPBS.

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Stream full episodes of The Durrells in Corfu on Masterpiece.