Living in Corfu was rather like living in one of the more flamboyant and slapstick comic operas...
-- from My Family and Other Animals, 1956
My Family and Other Animals was shot on the Greek island of Corfu over a five-week period, but it wasn't much of a holiday for the cast and crew.
"Although considered a 'sunshine island,' our filming on Corfu was plagued by rain to the point where, when we filmed out at sea, we got caught in a massive electrical storm," reveals producer Simon Lewis. He adds that, ironically, when the weather was good, "none of the actors were allowed to sunbathe on their days off as this would have affected story continuity. The film was shot out of sequence and the cast get browner as the story progresses so real suntans were banned. Everyone had to stay in the shade and tans came out of a make-up bottle."
The location did have its positive aspects though, especially for the younger members of the cast. "On a trip into Corfu Town on her day off, Imelda Staunton bought a catapult as a present for Eugene Simon (who plays Gerry). When he received it he was so delighted that he rushed off into the garden of the house where we were shooting to look for a stone to try it out. The first 'stone' he picked up turned out to be a tiny baby tortoise! Eugene christened it "Slingshot," he became the unit mascot and appeared in the film."
"We could only film with 13-year-old Eugene for four and a half hours a day. So wherever possible we substituted a double. But Greek education laws are also very strict and it was difficult to get permission for local boys to come out of school to film with us. In the end, five different boys doubled for Eugene at various moments in the film."
With animals being so central to the program, there were bound to be some mishaps on set: "My favorite moment (probably unrepeatable) came when we needed the dog who played Roger to do a very specific look. Understandably, and frustratingly, this didn't go too well. The director (Sheree Folkson) was heard shouting something angry and expletive-laden at the canine actor. To which one of the crew replied 'But Sheree -- it's a dog!'"
"Many weeks were spent training a pack of dogs for one scene. In rehearsals they had been perfect. On the first take, they were released and all ran away. It took half an hour to round them all up again. Disaster!"
"We had trained some magpies to sit on top of a typewriter plucking at its ribbon. But on the day of the shoot, the director asked one of the actors to raise a cricket bat above his head as if to hit them. Magpies are far from stupid. They flew back to their cage and refused to perform for the next hour. The script required us to film a gecko preying upon a mantid. It took a whole day to film!"
One scene showed sea slugs off the coast of Corfu. "Although real sea slugs are to be found in the waters around Corfu," reveals Simon, "we had rubber ones made so as not to disturb their natural habitats."
Sadly, not everyone has the same concern for nature as the production team or Gerald Durrell himself: " The heavy use of insecticide to protect the olive crop on Corfu has killed off much of the insect and small mammal population -- many of the animals in the film had to be specially imported from the UK," explains Lewis.
Latitude: 39.38N Longitude: 19.50E
Corfu is is the most northern of the Ionian islands, lying to the west of the Greek and Albanian mainland, at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea.
The Ionian islands include many uninhabited rocks and islets as well as four large islands -- Corfu (Kerkira), Leucas (Levkas), Cephalonia (Kefallinia), and Zacynthus (Zakinthos). Altogether, the Ionians make up just 1.8 percent of Greece's total land area.
Mountainous, especially to the north, with notable landscapes and dense vegetation, the fertile southern lowland is cultivated rigorously to grow olives, figs, citrus fruits, and grapes.
Kerkira is the modern Greek name for Corfu as well as the name of the capital and main port, the largest town in the Ionian Islands. It is one of the most elegant and impressive towns in Greece with distinctive layers of Greek, Italian, French, and British influence including a citadel built by the Venetians in 1550. After years of occupation, the British finally ceded the island to Greece in 1864.
Today, tourism is a major attraction -- traditional villages, Byzantine churches, museums, Venetian fortresses and a variety of golden beaches lure visitors.
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