The Durrells: A warm welcome back to a sun drenched series

Is there a better feeling than sitting in a theatre full of people who love a show as much as you do, aw-ing and laughing together? I don’t think so.

It happened at the BFI/Radio Times Festival, where not only did we get to watch the opening episode of Series 2, we sat in on the conversation between screenwriter Simon Nye, star Keeley Hawes and executive producers Lee Morris and Sally Woodward Gentle, hosted by Radio 4’s Kirsty Lang.

The episode opens with a beautiful sunrise, Gerry asleep with the animals and a surprise visitor to Louisa’s bedroom. Warmhearted and easy going, there are laugh out loud moments from the off.

They’re still poor, which leads to some superb money making ideas (forming a band, marrying off the girls, selling English delicacies. Toad in the Hole? Spotted Dick? Are you making these names up?)

We’ve a smarmy stranger and an exotic new baddie for the family to contend with, not to mention some serious facial hair and a double whammy for poor Jerry. I’m not going to spoil it for you, just make sure you tune in (ITV Sunday, 8pm).

Filming in sunny Corfu as opposed to grimy London has to help the cast feel good, right? It’s a joy confirms Keeley, it really is. Everyone gets on so well. Mrs D was an extraordinary woman – being a mother is difficult enough in 2016, let alone back then. That she uprooted her family to a foreign country with no money – she took them on a huge adventure.

Kirsty Lang (left) chairs the panel with (l-r) Keeley, Simon, Sally and Lee
Kirsty Lang (left) chairs the panel with (l-r) Keeley, Simon, Sally and Lee

This series gives Simon more time to develop the characters and storylines, as opposed to the first series which was a straight adaptation. In the books, Louisa was more in the background, but the show puts her centre stage (“Well done, Simon,” quips Keeley) as they wanted to tell a fuller picture – four kids were a handful, like herding cats.

Making a programme the whole family could watch together was an aim, since there’s such a lot of dark stuff on TV. Sally said: “Simon’s writing is so full of joy but also incredibly moving – you don’t see it coming. It’s not sickly, it’s undercut by a rude joke or someone being vile.”

Simon added: “And Keeley’s sense of comic timing is impeccable, extraordinarily skilful.”

The ‘kids’ are all in their 20s, except Milo (14), and they’re very sweet. Keeley mothers them on and off screen, says Sally, who gets a little teary as she tells us they’re really like brothers and sisters, that there’s an extraordinary affection between them. Keeley reckons her real kids are all in love with the Durrell kids.

Exec producer Sally (right) tells us they really are all like one big family.
Exec producer Sally (right) tells us they really are all like one big family.

There’s a quaintness and quirkiness about Corfu, representing both British and Greek culture, although the lack of film infrastructure in Greece means they have to take everything with them. Commission day was one of joy and panic though; they hadn’t banked on it happening and knew nothing about the island.

The locals have embraced the cast and crew and are incredibly welcoming, while the beautiful north of the island has surprisingly little to paint out, with enough unspoilt pockets making it easy to shoot.

And how did they get Leslie Caron on board? Well, she’s the producer’s mother! They agreed they wanted her and then made the approach. She is as fabulous as you think, with lots of stories.

Animals aren’t always available so it’s not easy deciding what Gerry will be taking on next. Keeley confirms they were outnumbered for the first time this series. It’s logistically difficult, with handlers dangling things to tempt the animals whilst staying out of sight behind the sofa. She’s struck up a firm friendship with the chicken. “I love that chicken and I think she loves me too!”

Any animal related injuries? Favourite one was the production designer who got whacked in the face by the pelican while trying to take a selfie.

Watch, enjoy and celebrate that Series 3 has begun filming.