My Family And Other Animals

My Family And Other Animals


Reviewed by: Stephanie Wolfe Murray

In 1987 the BBC made a 10-part series adaptation of Gerald Durrell’s classic bestselling autobiography, My Family And Other Animals. Gerald was the youngest of four children. Before the Second World War the family (widowed mother, teenage sister and two even older brothers, one of them the famous Lawrence) spent several years on the beautiful unspoilt Greek island of Corfu.

This series has now been made into a double DVD and it doesn’t disappoint. It is sublime – a pure pleasure to watch and the good news is that it goes on, and on, each episode lasing for 30 funny, enchanting minutes.

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What makes the series so special? There are so many facets. Firstly, there is the atmosphere: the place, its beauty, the people, the very air they breathe. It encapsulates exactly the gently hilarious eccentricity of the family: Mother, beautifully captured by Hannah Gordon, Lawrence (Anthony Calf), the burgeoning, sardonic young writer, tapping away upstairs, infuriated by Gerald’s obsession with insects and the wounded birds flapping around the house, and Gerald himself (Darren Redmayne), an unselfconscious boy, revelling in a life with no restraints, eking out every precious moment with sheer happiness on this paradise island.

Then there are the character parts, although it would be an injustice to imply that Spiro (memorably played by Brian Blessed) is no more than that. Along with the family, he carries the series – a local who takes the family under his wing from the moment of their arrival to the poignant last episode when the family returns to England.

Nobody seems to have thought about Gerald’s education. Constantly busy dissecting and illustrating his vast collection of bugs, birds, tortoises and snakes, going on solo expeditions with his sheepdog (another of the movie’s great characters) and swimming in the rocky shallows for aquatic curiosities, it hasn’t struck his mother that her youngest offspring should be receiving a proper education. “The boy must have education, Mrs Durrell,” remonstrates Spiro, and he is not the only one. Two or three hired tutors give up in despair, succumbing hopelessly to the charm of the place or falling for daughter Margot (Sarah-Jane Holm) or becoming alarmed by trigger happy brother Leslie (Guy Scantlebury). There are a couple of charming, aged eccentric local professors who do their best but always the advice is the same. “I can take him no further, he must now be educated.”

How this meandering tale can take up so many gripping episodes is something of a conundrum. But family life can do this, especially the Durrells'. Lawrence’s insistence on moving to a bigger house because he wants to bring his intellectual friends to stay - and what hilarious horrors they are - then his equally passionate insistence that they move back to a smaller one to stop their aged aunts coming, is a perfect canvas on which to see the mother, an artless, caring, completely unpretentious and strangely competent woman around whom life revolves.

I read the book many, many years ago as a teenager and I think it is true to say it gave me an appetite for reading. I am well aware that last Christmas there was another BBC adaptation of this book, but this time only 90 minutes – all too short according to the viewers who wrote in. I didn’t see it and having seen this earlier series am now glad I didn’t. The 1987 adaptation has an old charm about it that might be eclipsed by this new version. That would be a shame. Hannah Gordon, Brian Blessed et al evoke a feeling of the times that is fine and apposite.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2006
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BBC adaptation of Gerald Durrell's autobiography about his years on Corfu.
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Director: Peter Barber-Fleming

Writer: Charles Wood, based on the book by Gerarld Durrell

Starring: Hannah Gordon, Brian Blessed, Daren Redmayne, Sarah-Jane Holm, Guy Scantlebury

Year: 1987

Runtime: 250 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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