Saturday 21 April 2018

Television: Sunkissed drama aims at feelgood viewing

Keely Hawes in The Durrells.
Keely Hawes in The Durrells.

John Boland

Take a spoonful of A Year in Provence, mix it with essence of A Room with a View, add a soupçon of Shirley Valentine...and, voilà, you've got UTV Ireland's new six-part feelgood drama series, The Durrells.

Based on Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, which was dramatised by the BBC in 1987, this features Keely Hawes (pictured), as a widow from Bournemouth who decamps with her four quarrelsome offspring to Corfu in the 1930s. They find themselves in a sun-drenched paradise populated by quirky locals who help them adjust to their new surroundings while also providing comic relief. There's the Greek Orthodox priest distraught at the teenage daughter's sunbathing on the rocks, there's the lecherous old sea captain who tries to grope mummy, and there's an unintelligible old servant straight out of central casting.

What saves it are the stunning landscapes (you'll want to book a flight immediately) and the performances by Hawes and her fractious but loving brood. It's all a fantasy, of course (the clifftop farmhouse they rent is to die for), but it's so persuasively done that it makes for ideal Sunday night viewing.

Meanwhile over on BBC1's Undercover an hour later, things were a good deal grimmer as London lawyer Maya was in Louisiana witnessing the botched execution of the innocent man she was representing. Back at home a day later she was being offered the job of director of public prosecutions, unaware that her loving husband of two decades was really a former undercover cop who had only married her for her usefulness to police authorities.

What distinguished all this was the playing of Sophie Okonedo as Maya, Adrian Lester as her husband and especially Dennis Haysbert, who in the opening minutes lit up the screen as the condemned man.

The series is also notable for featuring black characters as the principal characters, the first time I can recall such casting in a mainstream television drama.

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