The Durrells – ITV 1


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I enjoyed this a lot more than I was expecting to! Maybe it was all the sun, sand and scenery. I remember there being a BBC 1 adaptation of My Family And Other Animals back in 1987, but I didn’t watch it … although I do remember the theme tune very well, because I always used to catch the last couple of minutes of it when I switched on the telly to watch Dynasty, which was on after it! I’m afraid I haven’t read the book either, so I don’t know how true this was to the book – not very, apparently, so maybe it’s a good job I haven’t read the book.

I’m surprised I enjoyed it, because the Durrells were just so, so annoying! The mum was OK, although she seemed ridiculously young to be the mother of the older children, but shouldn’t she have done something about getting Gerry an education, and done a bit more about the annoying older boys than keep saying “Oh, darling”?! And how come Larry’s girlfriend was allowed to move in with them? It was the 1930s (although it could really have been any time, with no references to world events or even British or Greek politics, nor to the Durrells’ time in India)! Why didn’t her dad come after Larry with a shotgun?! That bit wasn’t true, because Larry and Nancy were in fact married; but they weren’t in this series, and it didn’t seem very realistic.

Larry and Leslie both really needed a good slap. What a pair of spoilt brats! Why didn’t they go out and get jobs? And Gerry was quite sweet, but, if the series was based on his books, that sounds as if he presented himself as being sweet and his siblings as being annoying, which is rather annoying in itself. The best one was Margo, who started off being an annoying spoilt brat like Larry and Leslie, but got her act together and turned into a rather nice person.

The supporting cast, by contrast, were great. The “Brits abroad” thing came across quite well, and with plenty of comedy moments, but without either the British or Greek characters being stereotyped. The Durrells were great as well – annoying, but very well-acted. There’s been some controversy over the fact that a gay character was initially presented as being heterosexual, and actually became engaged to Louisa Durrell, but the last episode showed the marriage being called off after Louisa realised that he was gay.

It was quite an old-fashioned programme, really, apart from the crudity of some of it – seriously, was it necessary for Louisa’s children to spend so much time going on about her needing a man?! It’s the sort of part drama, part sitcom series that used to be so popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s and which sadly seems to have fallen out of favour. I’m puzzled as to why ITV have decided to scrap Home Fires and Indian Summers, but I’m glad to hear that this one, at least, will be coming back for another series.  Not bad at all


The Dark Ages: An Age of Light – BBC 4


Word PressThe Dark Ages get a bad press.  The word “Dark” says it all.  And the names of a lot of the groups associated with the Dark Ages, such as the Goths, the Huns and the Vandals, get misused in all sorts of ways … and they’re grouped together as “the barbarians”, which rather sums it up.  I think the problem is that our society now is so based on the written word (or, these days, the typed-into-cyberspace word), and the Dark Ages wasn’t much of a time for writing.  However, this excellent series, presented by the very entertaining Waldemar Januszczak, aims to show that the Dark Ages weren’t “dark” at all.  Art, jewellery, buildings … there was plenty of absolutely exquisite stuff produced in those days.

In the first episode, we got Christian religious art, including some interesting points about how set ideas of what the major Biblical figures looked like developed, even though the Bible doesn’t actually tell us!  Then the second episode covered the works of the so-called Barbarians, and the third episode the wonderful buildings of early Islam.  In the final episode, we’re getting the Vikings.  We’ve  all seen examples of this wonderful artwork and these glorious buildings, and yet we still use the term “the Dark Ages”. Some people do talk about the “Early Middle Ages”, but “the Dark Ages” is still the more familiar term.  We even use it as a jokey expression for something in our own lives that happened a long time ago.  Yet it’s a misnomer.  As the series title says, in many ways “the Dark Ages” were indeed “An Age of Light”!

Mary Beard’s Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit – BBC 2


Word PressStupid title (sounds like a computer game), but an interesting programme.  I did start wondering if there was some sort of political agenda to it, but I don’t think that’s Mary Beard’s style: all the talk about refugees and asylum seekers and single currencies and so on was presumably there to try to make it seem relevant to today!

Much of this first episode was about the idea that Rome was created by its Empire rather than the other way round.  Mary Beard argued that Rome didn’t set out to build an Empire, but that it just sort of happened.  You could probably say that about Britain as well, whereas I don’t think you could about, say, Castile/Spain and Portugal.  The argument was that, whilst other city-states just went raiding and trading, Rome brought other places into its Empire, and gave their people the chance to become citizens of Rome.  I’m not 100% convinced about the first part – there were Carthaginian settlements in Spain (we all know the Barca story, even if it isn’t true!) and Greek settlements in all sorts of places – but the point about Rome incorporating places into its empire and the better-off classes, at least, having the chance to become Roman citizens is certainly very interesting.

So too was the point about Rome effectively grabbing bits of other people’s cultures!  How many Greek sculptures ended up in Rome?!  And then there was the point about the “alternative” myth of Rome’s founding, i.e. the Aeneid.  I’m not sure that it actually is an “alternative” myth, because the idea of the story is that Romulus and Remus were descended from Aeneas, so it’s more of an add-on myth, but what Mary was saying was that Rome, at the time of Virgil when it was close to the height of its power, was coming up with a founding myth involving a foreign prince.  Am I the only person who doesn’t get this obsession with being descended from the Trojans?!  You get it in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “history” of Britain as well.  I know the Trojans were supposed to be very hard-working and very honourable and all the rest of it, but, come on, fancy falling for that story about the horse!  Anyone could have seen that it was a trick!

Anyway.  The main thrust of this programme seemed to be that Rome a) didn’t actually set out to become a mighty Empire and b) incorporated other cultures rather than just conquering them.   I’m not sure that this really is “myth-busting” because I think we knew that anyway, but it was a well-presented programme and made good watching.