Did we like it?
Oh yes. See, it’s not that difficult – a great cast, a nice adaptation of a classic piece of writing, a bit of money and suddenly the BBC is so full of good cheer it even gives it a comfortable slot. As a Points of View writer might sign off, “More please BBC!”
What was good about it?
• Omid Djalili’s superb entrance as Spiro, briskly shouting down some Greek cabbies carrying off Mother (Imelda Staunton) with the passion of the Minotaur and then graciously welcoming the Durrells to Corfu with the charm of Helen of Troy. In fact, Djalili in anything is a good sign, and he was brilliant in this.
• Some superb one-liners – a sign of Durrell’s own humour and writer Simon Nye’s eye for comedy. At the start, Gerald’s sister Margo tells all that the loo roll can be found in a box near the toilet. In horror, she’s told by Lawrence that that is the box for used paper. Mother: “Remind me when we get in to look up ‘typhoid’, Lawrence’.
• The whole family amusingly discussing how best to bring up Gerald, as if he wasn’t sitting with them: Literature, says Lawrence; guns, says Leslie; just teach him to dance, says Margo.
• The charming flowering of Margo from pale English moth to bronzed Mediterranean nymphet.
• The very funny burial of Gerald’s tortoise after it fell down a well. Capped off beautifully by a massive gun shot by Leslie.
• Lawrence’s pretentious friends having a bizarre discussion relating Hitler to various nursery rhymes.
• Spiro handing out advice about marriage: “I gives her two (kids), then I gets her sewed up!”
• The subtle background humour of servant Liberezzia suffering from numerous illnesses and various pains. She receives absolutely no sympathy from the Durrells.
• The photography of the gorgeous scenery and the wonderful footage of Gerald’s animals.
• There’s loads more, but it was almost uniformly very good and we could be here for a while listing every small delight in the film.
What was bad about it?
• There were a few ‘comedy’ sound effects (or seemed to be) that the film didn’t need – it was funny enough. We might concede they were there to hammer home gags to the younger viewers as it did work excellently as family entertainment.
• It felt like a real push to cram the book into 90 minutes. Didn’t the BBC get a full series out of this a few years ago? We’d have gratefully accepted two 90-minute episodes over two nights