The True Story Behind ITV's 'The Durrells' Was Tailor-Made For TV

by Emily Dixon
ITV/Sid Gentle Productions

Tonight, the fourth and final series of The Durrells (or The Durrells in Corfu, if you're in the U.S.) premieres on ITV. The series will see the family's idyllic existence upended by the approach of the Second World War — and according to star Keeley Hawes, who plays Louisa Durrell, the show will end on a "heartbreaking" note. So what, exactly, inspired the hit family drama: is The Durrells based on a true story?

The short answer: yes. As the Radio Times explains, the show is an adaptation of Gerald (or Gerry) Durrell's Corfu Trilogy. Played by Milo Parker in the show, Gerald became an author, naturalist, and conservationist, who wrote three books about his childhood in Corfu: My Family and Other Animals, the most famous of Durrell's works, as well as Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods.

Lawrence, or Larry — frequently positioned at his typewriter in the ITV show, in which he's played by Josh O'Connor — also became a writer, though he was most renowned for his fiction: poems, plays, and novels. His 1982 novel Constance or Solitary Practices, the central book of his Avignon Quintet, was nominated for the Booker Prize.

The real life Durrells followed Lawrence and his first wife Nancy to Corfu, though as the Radio Times notes, the TV Larry is unmarried and Nancy is nowhere to be seen. The family spent four years, from 1935 to 1939, in Corfu, until the outbreak of the Second World War, when most of them moved back to England.

The war, as Keeley Hawes told the Mirror, plays a defining role in the final series of The Durrells. "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," she 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," Hawes told the paper. "But finally Louisa has to face facts and events take a much darker, sadder turn."

"It was terribly sad reading the final script," she said. "Heartbreaking. And it has to be."

ITV/Sid Gentle Productions

For Hawes, the biographical nature of the show meant an obligation to do the story, and the characters, justice. "We’ve had such a lovely time, but at the same time it’s nice to finish off the story. We’re talking about real people so it’s nice to finish their story off properly," she said.

The Durrells airs on ITV at 8 p.m., and according to Josh O'Connor, it's guaranteed one somewhat famous viewer: the Queen. According to the Radio Times, she "loved" O'Connor in the series — which is fortuitous, since he's due to play her son, Prince Charles, in Netflix's The Crown. "So we have another fan! It was a great thing for us. We were so pleased," O'Connor told the magazine. Sounds like there's royally high stakes for the final series, then.