An interview with Keeley Hawes, who plays Louisa Durrell in ITV’s new six part series The Durrells.
Based upon Gerald Durrell’s classic trilogy of Corfu memoirs including the much loved ‘My Family and Other Animals’. and set in 1935, this timeless drama is full of warmth, humour and fun.
The story focuses upon Louisa Durrell (Hawes) whose life is in meltdown. Her husband died years ago and his money has all but run out. Her four unruly ‘children’ Larry, 21, Leslie, 18, Margo, 17 and Gerry, 11 are going off the rails. Gerry is obsessed with animals and about to be thrown out of school; Larry is a would-be novelist but the worst estate agent in Bournemouth, and the middle two are hitting adulthood like a car-crash. It is the 1930s, and a woman’s options are limited.
Louisa realises she can carry on struggling, marry someone comfortably off but oppressive, or make a radical change and escape... from a domestic pressure-cooker, British weather, uptight Englishness and narrow horizons. This is a rescue mission to somewhere her family can heal itself before it’s too late. So, they uproot and move to Corfu!
Over six episodes we follow the Durrell family as they adjust to their new life. Along the way they’ll meet new friends, rivals and lovers.
We caught up with Keeley Hawes:
Q: What appealed to you about The Durrells?
“The scripts are fantastic and so funny. I love the books so that was the one thing I was most relieved about. I came to Corfu on a family holiday when I was around nine or ten. It was the first time I had been abroad. I had just read the first book and it was literally like stepping into the pages. It was amazing. So I’ve always been very close to it.
“I had started reading the first book to my two youngest children when The Durrells came along. So it was all rather nice and timely. I think my children will love this show. They have been over to Corfu and I’ve been able to fly home during breaks in filming. It’s not far and it’s not forever. Usually I get to film in Bermondsey and Luton. I don’t think anyone could blame me for jumping at this and making the most of it.”
Q: Were you familiar with the previous TV adaptations in 1987 and 2005?
“Before the second one I was working on a Marple with Matthew Goode who was then going off to play Larry Durrell in that film. I was really frustrated because this was 10 years ago, I wasn’t old enough to play the mother and there just wasn’t a part for me. So when I heard they were doing this my heart skipped a beat. I was about a quarter of the way through reading it to my children when The Durrells came up and I was genuinely thrilled. Then I thought, ‘Oh, I might not be old enough.’ But I was about to turn 40. The oldest child Larry is 21 and in those days Louisa would have been not much older than me. So I’m playing my age, which is good. My mum had my brother when she was 19. People did.”
Q: Could you have played this part as well if you hadn’t been a mother yourself?
“I hope so. But it absolutely helps to work with children if you’re very used to them and you know how you behave with your own children. One of the things I really love about Simon Nye’s scripts is the fact that some of the arguments they have take your breath away. They’re quite full on, some of them. Some of the things, particularly, that Larry says. You think, ‘Well that’s a bit strong. God, that’s so hurtful. Even if it is true.’ But actually that’s what families are like. If your family can’t say those things to you then who can? It feels very real.
“Louisa is a loving, protective mother. Her children are the be all and end all. That’s why she’s made this journey. And it’s very difficult for her. She doesn’t work and they weren’t wealthy. So there were struggles. What do you do if you have no money? There’s no fall back. You have to feed four children and yourself.
“Yet when one of them is taken ill, money is suddenly meaningless. Money doesn’t matter at all when real things happen. But she does need to feed them!
“At one stage Louisa says, ‘Nothing is about me, my life is devoured by my children.’ Anybody who is a mother will know exactly what that’s like. Once you’re a mother it’s not about you anymore, ever again. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Durrells, begins on ITV1, Sunday, 3 April at 8pm.