Summer 2020 has been a strange one. But the eerily weird summer that Jude Law is having in The Third Day – a new Sky original drama from Utopia writer Dennis Kelly and immersive theatre company Punchdrunk’s artistic director, Felix Barrett – could give it a run for its money. Set on the real-life island of Osea, Essex, Law plays city-dweller Sam, who finds himself stranded when the tide cuts Osea off from the mainland. As the islanders gear up for their bizarre festival, Sam begins to realise that the people of Osea are stranger and more dangerous than he first thought.
The Third Day is a unique proposition. It’s comprised of three separate but interconnected stories that all take place on Osea. The first, titled Summer, is led by Law, the second, Winter, by Naomie Harris – and Autumn is a bold theatrical broadcast event on Sky Arts (Saturday 3 October), orchestrated by immersive theatre company Punchdrunk that takes place between them. Barrett says: “It’s been a long-held ambition of mine to create a story that would begin on TV, transfer into a live experience, then fold back into TV. We wanted to break the fourth wall of television.” The original plan for Autumn was an immersive theatre experience on Osea Island that viewers could attend in person, but due to Covid-19 it has been turned into a filmed, as-live broadcast.
So let’s dig a little deeper into the world of The Third Day, and find out what to expect from the first part of the show: Summer.
What is it about?
On the surface, The Third Day: Summer is about a man who becomes trapped on a strange island, when all he wants to do is get back to his family. But as anyone who has ever seen a Kelly show before will know, the surface is generally the least interesting part.
“Really it’s a piece about grief: the destructive consequences of not being able to grieve properly and how people deal with loss in very different ways,” former Utopia director Marc Munden says. “I had this idea that our main guy would have something inside that he was searching for, that was unanswered,” Kelly elaborates. “If he came to this place and saw what at first seems to be a parochial idyll, he might think there were answers there.” But what Sam finds on Osea offers more mind-boggling questions than answers, as we learn that neither the community, with their odd twist on Christianity, or Sam himself, are what they seem. “Sam’s clearly an unreliable narrator in some ways,” Munden says. “But I wanted to take that further so that the world itself is unreliable and the audience isn’t quite sure whether the world they are seeing is true or false. It’s not just about him grieving or being unreliable or being a liar, it’s about you as the audience experiencing the world as he experiences it.”
The stars of the show
Law is the star of Summer, and everyone involved is still pinching themselves that he agreed to play the part of Sam. “You can’t take your eyes off Jude. He’s totally compelling,” Munden says. “He loves being challenged. He will try anything and be pushed to extremes. He really did live it. I think this is the performance of his life.”
Law was the first cast member to sign on and, according to producer Adrian Sturges: “Once Jude said ‘yes’, the network said we could go after whoever we liked”, which turned into an impressive cast made up of Naomie Harris, Emily Watson, Katherine Waterston, Paddy Considine and Paul Kaye. “It’s always a good testament to the writing when you get your first choices,” says Sturges.
The real-life Osea
Osea is an island in Essex, connected to the mainland via a Roman causeway, so access to the island is dependent on tides. The Third Day crew took over the whole island during filming, even living there for the duration of the shoot. The series was written with Osea in mind, so very little needed to be done in order to create the look of the show, but there were plenty of logistical challenges.
“Both Marc [Munden] and I said it was the hardest shoot we’ve ever done,” says Philippa Lowthorpe, who directs Winter, the final part in the series. “It was physically gruelling,” she says, but adds that “Osea was vital to the look of the film. The haunting landscapes lend the drama the most incredible atmosphere and visual magic.”
What to expect
No one seems able to pin The Third Day down to a particular genre. Not even Kelly quite knows how to describe the tone of the show. “It’s not out and out horror … but there are moments when it can be,” he muses. Munden settles on the broad term “drama”, but admits that “within that, it’s a mystery and a thriller. You might call it folk horror, but really that’s just there to wrong-foot the audience – to make them think they might be about to see something like The Wicker Man. But there’s nothing supernatural in the piece. It’s much more esoteric and political.”
The Third Day is available now on Sky