Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Durrells

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Durrells

Article excerpt

For as long as I can remember, Sunday nights have been the home of the kind of TV drama cunningly designed to warm the sternest of heart cockles. Think, for example, of Robert Hardy cheerfully bellowing his way through almost every scene of All Creatures Great and Small ('PASS THE SALT, JAMES!'). Or of Pop Larkin's impressive commitment to chuckling indulgently in The Darling Buds of May. Or of Heartbeat somehow racking up 372 episodes.

Even so, ITV has now taken this tendency to surprising new lengths, with not one but two Sunday-night dramas that run consecutively and contain such traditional elements as gorgeous sun-dappled scenery, cute animals, gruff old-timers with hearts of gold and any number of lovable eccentrics.

First up, at 8 p.m., is The Durrells, now back for a third series, but clearly in no mood to change a winning formula. The opening episode began with a voiced-over letter from Mrs Durrell (Keeley Hawes) to her Aunt Hermione obligingly bringing us up to speed on what's happened to her family since we last saw them -- not a great deal, as it turned out. And with that, the programme got down to the serious business of making sure we liked it.

In this aim, very little is left to chance. For one thing, the Corfu setting, and everybody in it, remain unremittingly charming. But perhaps more importantly, the show -- based loosely on Gerald Durrell's memoirs of his early life -- is as considerate as ever when it comes to sparing us from having to do much work.

Particularly helpful here are the Durrells themselves, with their pathological aversion to the unsaid. In some families (maybe even a few of our own) one or two of the members might keep one or two of their feelings hidden from each other. Here, though, nobody concerned -- including the viewers -- is ever left in any doubt as to what anybody is thinking at any given moment. Equally reassuring, meanwhile, is the certainty that no problem will prove intractable -- or, indeed, all that problematic.

In Sunday's main plot, middle brother Leslie found himself juggling three girlfriends, a situation that, naturally, his siblings and mother were soon aware of. For the purposes of the drama, this briefly filled Mrs D. with some alarm, but naturally, too, she needn't have worried. A few mildly comic misunderstandings later, Leslie had made his choice, and although it differed from his mother's, she didn't mind in the least. …

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