The Third Day: Essex island ideal location for eerie drama

By Nic Rigby
BBC News

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image copyrightSky UK/HBO
image captionPhilippa Lowthorpe said it was "such a treat" to work with Naomie Harris, pictured with child actors Nico Parker and Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell

A director of a drama series set on a private island off the English coast said its eerie atmosphere made it an ideal filming location.

Osea Island, in the River Blackwater, Essex, is the setting for mini-series The Third Day, starring Jude Law, Naomie Harris and Emily Watson.

It has previously been home to a naval base and a rehab clinic.

Director Philippa Lowthorpe said the "haunting island" had a "special atmosphere".

The dark thriller is divided into three parts with a live broadcast on Sunday.

image copyrightSky UK/HBO
image captionLowthorpe (right) said she was attracted to the project because of the "originality of the ideas" and the "amazing cast"

During filming, the cast and crew stayed on the island, accessible via a causeway from Maldon for a four-hour period every 12 hours.

"What was so fantastic about this production was we were able to go to a bit of the UK we rarely film," said Lowthorpe, who directed the Winter section of the drama.

"We got up early on one morning to film Naomie crossing on the causeway and it was a magical moment.

"At six o'clock in the morning, the sun came across the sea. It made the island look like Avalon."

Rock stars, rehab and the Royal Navy

Osea Island is owned by music producer Nigel Frieda and its recording studio has been used by artists including Jessie J and Tinie Tempah.

During World War One, it became Royal Navy base HMS Osea, home to hundreds of service personnel and a fleet of torpedo-launching motor boats.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMembers of the relatively newly-formed Women's Royal Naval Service were photographed at HMS Osea in 1918

Historian and author Julian Foynes said the boats would be launched from larger sea-going vessels and were used effectively against Russian warships in the Baltic during the Russian Civil War.

"They launched a famous torpedo raid on the Russian fleet, a number of ships were disabled and several officers won the Victoria Cross," he said.

In the 2000s it became known for its rehab centre, The Causeway Retreat, where celebrities including Amy Winehouse sought treatment, but in 2010 the centre was fined £8,000 and branded "scandalously negligent" by a judge.

image copyrightOliver Dixon/Geograph
image captionFrederick Charrington, from the London brewing dynasty, bought Osea Island and turned it into a rehab centre

Not everyone took to staying on the island, said Lowthorpe.

"Some people found it really creepy because we were doing this creepy thriller and there are no street lamps on the island. You could get a bit freaked out.

"We all had to blunder around with our mobiles in the dark if we wanted to see someone in another house."

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Lowthorpe said she had her own brush with the "creepiness" of the island.

"One day I came back to my cottage with the script supervisor and I let out a shriek because on my door was the shimmering light image of a large fish, which is one of the symbols of of Osea, and I thought 'Hell, what was that?'

"It must have been sort of refraction of some light. We looked around and couldn't find the image. We really scared ourselves."

The Third Day

image copyrightSky UK/HBO
image captionKatherine Waterston and Jude Law star in the first part of The Third Day

The Third Day is told in three separate but interconnected parts: Summer, Autumn and Winter.

In Summer, Sam, played by Law, still grieving for the loss of a son, is drawn to the mysterious island with links to his past.

Autumn will be a live broadcast event created by theatrical innovators Punchdrunk shown on Sky Arts and online.

Winter follows Helen, played by Harris, an outsider also drawn with her family to the island as the lines between fantasy and fact are distorted and the fate of the island is decided.

The drama was created by Utopia writer Dennis Kelly and Felix Barrett, artistic director of Punchdrunk.

Barrett said: "All the locations are very specific to this island. The island is real and a lot of the narrative that we've put in the show is based on fact.

"We talk about Charrington, the Victorian philanthropist who bought it and turned it into a rehab centre; we talk about it being taken over during World War Two as a military base.

"There's a beautiful melding of reality and fiction; if you do your homework, you'll see that actually we go pretty deep into it."

image copyrightSky UK/HBO
image captionThe actors and crew stayed on the island, reached by a causeway from Maldon

Harris, the first black actor to play Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond movies, said the island was "very Marmite... some people absolutely hate it and were like 'get me off ', but some people loved it".

She said: "My family travel with me on every single set that I go on, every single film, so they piled down to Osea and they were only meant to stay for one night but they ended up staying four nights because they loved it so much."

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