‘The Durrells In Corfu’: The True Story Behind the PBS Series

It’s time to bid adieu to Corfu. The fourth and final season of The Durrells in Corfu premieres September 29. Fans should expect things to take “a much darker, sadder turn” in the show’s final episodes, star Keeley Hawes told the Daily Mirror

War is on the horizon

The Durrells sitting around a dining table in water
The Durrells in Corfu | Courtesy of Sid Gentle Films 2019

It’s been four years since this quirky English family pulled up stakes and relocated to the Greek island of Corfu. They’ve built a happy life there, but now it’s 1939, and war is looming.  

‘‘Louisa has built this wonderful life and the family are very happy, but then there’s a massive spanner in the works with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939,” Hawes, who plays Durrell family matriarch Louisa, said. “She’s sticking her head in the sand right to the very last minute and saying there isn’t going to be a war.” 

Will the Durrells get a happy ending or be swept up by history? We’ll find out by the time this six-episode season ends. But what if you can’t get enough of this family’s adventures? Then you’ll want to check out the autobiographical books on which the series is based.  

The ‘Durrells in Corfu’ is based on a true story 

In the show, the widowed Louisa Durrell and her four children — Gerry, Larry, Margo, and Leslie — move to Greece from England in 1935. They are struggling financially, and Corfu is cheap, even if the house they end up living in is lacking in modern amenities like electricity. Once there, there, they must adapt to a different kind of life. 

It all sounds idyllic and perhaps not very realistic, but the TV series is actually based on a true story. The Durrells really did move to Corfu from England in the 1930s, an experience youngest son Gerald (who eventually became a prominent naturalist) chronicled in three books, My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts, and Relatives; and The Garden of the Gods. 

While Gerald’s books are based on his family’s experiences in Greece, he played around with certain facts. In the books and the show, for example, Larry is single and lives with the family. In reality, the eldest Durrell sibling moved to Corfu with his wife Nancy before the rest of the family arrived. Louisa Durrell was also a heavy drinker and the family apparently wasn’t well-liked in their adopted home of Corfu, according to the Guardian

Gerald wasn’t the only writer in the family 

Larry Durrell writing
Josh O’Connor as Larry Durrell | Courtesy of Sid Gentle Films 2019

While it’s Gerald Durrell’s books that inspired the series, he wasn’t the only writer in this literary family. In fact, his older brother Lawrence, or Larry, Durrell was the more celebrated author. His series of four interconnected novels known as The Alexandria Quartet is his best-known work. Lawrence also wrote about his family’s time in Corfu in the 1945 novel Prospero’s Cell.

Gerald and Lawrence’s sister Margo Durrell was less prolific, but she also wrote a book. Whatever Happened to Margo, which was written in the 1960s but not published until 1995, covers her experiences after leaving Corfu.   

Season 4 of The Durrells in Corfu premieres Sunday, September 29 at 8/7c on PBS.