Keeley Hawes: Watching The Durrells is the perfect solution to lockdown anxieties

The Durrells will be back this summer as ITV repeats the Corfu-based drama from the very beginning

Spiro and Louisa in The Durrells

How about a trip to Corfu this summer? One that doesn’t involve getting on an aeroplane in the middle of a global pandemic? Because ITV is about to air a repeat of The Durrells – and Keeley Hawes reckons this dose of “pure escapism” is just what you need.

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“So many people have said to me during this period – I mean, I’ve had messages from all sorts of people saying, ‘We’ve been re-watching it’ – however they’ve done that,” said Hawes, who plays the family’s matriarch Mrs Durrell in the drama. “And that it’s just been a real tonic. Pure escapism.”

The Durrells began in 2016 and ran for four seasons. Based on Gerald Durrell’s bestselling memoirs, the drama follows the arrival of a widowed Englishwoman and her four children in 1930s Corfu, where they enjoy several very eventful years. The show wrapped up in 2019 when we reached the outbreak of war and the end of the real-life family’s time on the Greek island.

But fans will now have a second chance to watch from the beginning – as the first two seasons will air again from July on ITV, transporting us to a world of sunshine and heat, blue waters and boats, and animals everywhere.

Gerry Durrell (The Durrells)

“We’d all love to be travelling, we’re all thinking about our summer holidays usually at this time of year, and this year is very different.” Hawes said. “People are feeling anxious and worried and upset, and everybody is having to find new ways to deal with this whole new world that we’re living in, and I think a show like The Durrells, you can sit down – at any time, but especially now – and escape for a couple of hours with this crazy gang. That’s got to be a good thing.”

Speaking on a “family reunion” Zoom call with the cast of The Durrells, Josh O’Connor – who played eldest child Lawrence Durrell, and now stars as Prince Charles in The Crown – looked back on his earliest memories of filming.

“There’s this scene in episode one where they’re walking up this really steep hill, and it was like they [the production team] had gone out to find the steepest hill they could find,” he said.

“And we were all carrying luggage, and because I hadn’t really filmed an awful lot of stuff before, I remember thinking, ‘Oh the luggage will be really light and everything will be pretend.’ But it was really heavy, and really hot. And really steep. And we were genuinely sweating, and I remember make-up trying to come in to make us look sweaty and just looking at us and we looked – we were there already.”

Callum Turner, who played Leslie Durrell, also remembers sweltering through his first scene: “It was 35 degrees, we were in three-piece suits with a mac on, in a black leather car, and we were just melting. And it got to the point where we were trying to make it through the scene without passing out!”

The Durrells S3

The cast also had to quickly adjust to working with a lot of animals, including pelicans, lemurs, dogs and sloths. Sometimes that led to comedy moments – and if you look closely, you might actually spot a shrinking donkey.

In one scene, Hawes revealed, two donkeys had to be used – one in Corfu (where the exterior of the Durrells’ house was filmed) and one in England (where the interiors were shot in a studio). “The donkey was supposed to walk in from outside, and obviously we couldn’t bring the donkey here from Corfu,” she explained. “So the donkey was enormous out in Corfu, and then sort of walked in tiny. But what a joy! It’s unlike any other show I’m sure I’ll ever be part of.”

Fans might also be pleased to hear that the litter of puppies featured in one of the early episodes actually gained more from the show than just their first acting credits.

Hawes said: “They were from a rescue centre, so on top of them being the cutest things in the world, they had also been rescued – and so I think a few of those went home with the crew back to the UK.”

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The Durrells will repeat from Sunday 5th July at 7pm on ITV