The final episode was about the craziest combination of genres that I’ve ever seen; but somehow it worked, and I’m really going to miss seeing sun, sea and sand on the telly on a Sunday night. We had farce, spoof, poignancy, romance, friendship, tragedy, war and politics … and, of course, sunshine. We aren’t going to see Corfu invaded by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and bombed by the Allies. We aren’t going to see the Nazis massacre Italian POWs and deport Jewish Corfuvians to concentration camps. We aren’t going to see Larry fleeing in a small boat in the middle of the German bombardment, or Margo nearly dying whilst giving birth in a POW camp in Italian-occupied Ethiopia. We left the Durrells and their friends sitting round a picnic table in the sun-kissed sea. And yet it wasn’t any old picnic – it was marking the end of the idyll, farewell to paradise. And Louisa and Spiros were doomed never to be together – *sob*!
A lot of this episode was old-fashioned slapstick comedy. Much of it revolved around Larry deciding to put on a stage version of the Odyssey, starring family and friends. But there was a poignancy even to that, with so many of the locals, from a group of monks to Leslie’s ex-girlfriend and the baby she’d had with another man, turning up to say goodbye to the Durrells. More silliness came when a comedy policeman was pressed into taking part … and yet his role in the episode was serious too, because he’d originally come to the house to confiscate their radio and typewriter, saying that they could be used for propaganda purposes. There was a sense of ‘Allo ‘Allo there. It used to be quite a thing to make fun of the Second World War: I grew up with ‘Allo ‘Allo, and, before that, there was It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. We don’t do it any more, maybe because we talk so much more about the Nazi atrocities than we used to. The policeman’s visit was comedic – and yet it wasn’t, because, as Larry said when he decided to stay on, as a spy, their freedom of expression was being taken away.
Gerry was sad about parting from his animals. And Margo told everyone, including the woman who sold eggs at the market, what she was planning to get up to with her new boyfriend. In the end, she changed her mind. Then her previous boyfriend turned up, in a spoof scene which saw him suddenly sail into view and dive overboard to swim to shore. In another spoof scene, Louisa ran along the beach into Spiros’s arms. But, straight after the silliness of that, we got a genuinely emotional scene in which they talked about how they could never be together. It’s an unusual storyline these days. The expectation now is that people will give up everything to be together – but this was a reminder that this was another time, when ideas of duty and honour and expectations came first. Spiros couldn’t leave his family, nor his country as it faced war. They kissed on the beach. And parted. Saying that it was better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.
It’s rather nice how the big talking point of this series has been a romance between two people in their forties, not two glamorous young things. There’ve been various romances involving the Durrell children and different partners, but it was Louisa and Spiros we really cared about. Keeley Hawes as Louisa has been brilliant.
I could have lived without the “We Britons have always been reluctant Europeans” line that some scriptwriter decided to throw into Louisa’s farewell speech to the Durrells’ neighbours. Need the Brexit debate get everywhere?! But the rest of the speech was quite emotional. The end of an idyll. That’s rare, for something set in the 1930s. There’s long been this idea that the years leading up to the First World War were a golden age, but the 1930s, the Depression, are generally seen as anything but …. but we don’t normally get the aforementioned sun, sea and sand to accompany the stories of financial hardship. The Durrells had had their heads in the sand, ignoring the Italian invasion of nearby Albania and the storm clouds gathering over the rest of Europe. Then Louisa had received a telegram saying that Basil, the cousin who’d had an unconvincing affair with Spiros’s wife in a bizarre attempt to push Spiros further into Louisa’s arms, had been killed in Albania because he was British. And she’d realised that it was time to go.
It’d all wandered a long way from Gerald Durrell’s memoirs. And a lot of it was a bit too slapstick. But it was good. It was cheerful. It brightened up our screens. It wasn’t preceded by a warning that it contained scenes which some viewers might find distressing, or followed by a list of helplines for viewers to call if they’d been affected by issues raised. But it had to end, because, as has happened so often throughout history, the lives of people peacefully minding their own business, with their families and friends, were torn apart by war. Unlike The Chalet School in Exile or The Sound of Music, the threat of war didn’t get too close – apart from poor old Basil, whom everyone actually seemed to forget about after five minutes. We didn’t even see any Fascists or any Nazis. But we knew what was coming. And left it before it got there.
Goodbye, The Durrells! You will be missed. Victoria and Pose have also both finished this week. I’ll miss them too. They’ve both been much better than The Durrells, really. But I’m really going to miss that hour of sweetness and silliness in the sun between 8 and 9 on a Sunday evening!