Destitution has never been quite as appealing as it is in “The Durrells in Corfu,” the latest slice of picturesque Anglophilia from “Masterpiece.”
The six-episode series is escapist entertainment in the most literal sense, following widow Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) and her four unruly children as they flee “smug, tweedy old England” for the scenic Greek island of Corfu in 1935.
When we first meet Louisa, eight years after the death of her husband, she is barely scraping by on her meager pension and has developed a worrying gin habit.
She’s also constantly at odds with her kids, an eccentric bunch who range in age from 11 to 21. The oldest, Larry (Josh O’Connor), is an aspiring writer with sex on the brain; Leslie (Callum Woodhouse) is a sweet lughead whose sole passion in life is shooting; Margo (Daisy Waterstone) is histrionic and boy-crazy; while the youngest, Gerry (Milo Parker), is obsessed with wildlife.
At Larry’s suggestion, the Durrells decamp to Corfu, then a scenic backwater with no electricity, where they can live more frugally. They settle into a crumbling oceanfront house with the sort of rustic charm people now pay a fortune to re-create, and face a series of misadventures.
At one point, things are so financially desperate that Louisa sends her children to forage for berries in the woods -- but who cares, because check out that view!
“The Durrells in Corfu” was adapted by Simon Nye from the trilogy of autobiographical books by famed British conservationist Gerald Durrell (depicted here as the young, animal-obsessed Gerry; “Larry” will become novelist Lawrence Durrell). His writing is nimble, witty and irreverent, warm but not remotely sentimental.
Not surprisingly, the series is gorgeous to look at, with special attention paid to the Corfiot flora and fauna. As usual in these British period pieces, the cast is uniformly excellent. The Durrell children are vividly realized oddballs, each irritating and endearing in nearly equal measure.
But “The Durrells in Corfu” is indisputably Hawes’ show. She gives a dryly hilarious performance as Louisa, a woman who remains vibrant and adventurous, despite what life has dealt her. Her slow-burn romance with Sven, a brooding Swedish farmer (Ulric von der Esch), with overtones of “Pride and Prejudice,” is a thing of pure, squeal-inducing pleasure.
“The Durrells in Corfu” is not the kind of show that will keep you up late at night pondering life’s big questions, but given the cataclysm about to erupt in Europe, it feels like a glimpse into a lost idyll. “It’s the 1930s,” Louisa says. “People don’t need guns anymore.” If only.
‘The Durrells in Corfu’ on ‘Masterpiece’
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
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