Osea Island stars in Jude Law TV drama The Third Day

Jude Law on Osea Island during filming of The Third Day

Jude Law on Osea Island during filming of The Third Day - Credit: Archant

Philippa Lowthorpe, who directed the Winter episodes of the Sky TV hit The Third Day starring Jude Law, talks about filming on Osea Island

Philippa Lowthorpe

Philippa Lowthorpe - Credit: Archant

The last few years have seen some of the most famous figures in the world filming in our county, from Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible 6 scenes in Brentwood’s Thorndon Park, to frenzied sightings of Brad Pitt in Billericay while filming World War Z at Hanningfield.

For psychological thriller The Third Day, first broadcast in September, a new A-list cast found themselves marooned in the River Blackwater, this time with Brad on board as executive producer.

Renowned director Philippa Lowthorpe describes not only how the project was new territory for her, but how transfixed she was by the surroundings.

‘This was absolutely unlike anything I’ve done before,’ says Philippa. ‘I thought it’s so different and violent, but then I really got into it. I was already developing a film, (H is for Hawk), with Plan B, the executive producers of The Third Day. Plan B is Brad Pitt’s company and Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner are the people who run it.

Osea Island during filming of The Third Day

Osea Island during filming of The Third Day - Credit: Archant

‘I’ve done very serious things such as Five Daughters (based on the Ipswich murders of 2006) and Three Girls, (the story of grooming and sexual abuse in Rochdale in 2012), that are very tense. They’re such important subjects, but in order to get lots of people to watch we use the thriller genre to hang our issues on, and at the bottom is a deeply political campaigning spirit. The Third Day is pure fiction.’

As the Hollywood flock decamped to Osea, connected to the mainland by an ancient Roman causeway, they shot scenes with the haunting soundtrack of Florence and the Machines’ Dog Days Are Over, as crow cries echoed over the silent oasis.

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The story is made up of two trilogies, Summer directed by Marc Munden and Winter by Philippa, with live broadcast, Autumn in the middle. Originally fans were due to be invited on to the island to take part in the unscripted Sky Arts event on October 3, capturing an Osea festival, but this was curtailed due to the pandemic. Secrets were still unveiled to fans during the 12-hour stream, the idea to merge theatre and television having been eight years in the making with Jude Law committed from the beginning.

Bond actress Naomie Harris arrives for the final three episodes in Winter, wading between her estranged husband Sam’s paranoia and deeply disturbing Pagan rituals in a bid to find the truth about his disappearance.

Preparing for a swimming scene off Osea Island during filming of The Third Day

Preparing for a swimming scene off Osea Island during filming of The Third Day - Credit: Archant

‘The emotional truthfulness of Dennis Kelly’s writing is what I loved,’ reveals Philippa. ‘I’ve never done killings, that was a really fun thing to do. It was so truthful of what happens to a family when they’ve suffered a huge loss and how grief in different forms can fracture a family instead of bringing them together.’

Paddy Considine and Emily Watson play an unnerving landlord duo, alongside terrifying island dweller Larry played by Essex-born John Dagleish.

‘The tiniest parts were cast very carefully by Shaheen Baig. For me Naomie was one of the very big reasons I did it,’ reveals Philippa. ‘I love her work and have always been such a huge fan. When I first read the script I thought, goodness that character is going to have to be played by an absolute star, a heavyweight talent.’

The feeling was likewise for Naomie.

Osea Island during filming of The Third Day

Osea Island during filming of The Third Day - Credit: Archant

‘She had watched Three Girls and Misbehaviour, my latest film. They (Jude and Naomie) were brilliant with an amazing chemistry, actors at the top of their game. Their confrontation reduced quite a few people to tears while filming. It was electrifying.’

The challenge of coping with the mental illness of a partner is another layer much more apparent in Philippa’s finale.

‘You’re right, I haven’t been asked about that yet, but when you’ve had a tragedy it can plunge you into a kind of madness.’

Cast and crew reacted differently to the Osea experience over four weeks.

‘Naomi found the island quite hard, but her mum and stepdad came to stay and absolutely loved it. Her character found it difficult, and so did she, it’s quite physically demanding being there. There’s lots of running away. We supplemented the island with other flat landscape, such as the pretty boatyard in Maldon, and there’s some beautiful woodland near there.

‘I was born in Yorkshire and moved to Lincolnshire, but had no idea that further down the coast there was this mysterious part of Essex with little islands. It was quite incredible. They had special sleep pods and the crew had bikes to get around, but there is no lighting so you need a torch.’

Owned by Nigel Frieda, the 380-acre island with five miles of private beach, was originally purchased by Victorian philanthropist Frederick Charrington to operate a rehab centre for alcoholism. After use as a naval base in World War II it became a clinic facility once more before residences started to be rented out for wedding parties and as holiday homes. Artists including Rihanna have come to record their music and in the summer months it has been talked of as a party haven for those seeking privacy.

‘It’s a very eerie place. I don’t know if that is just because we were making something haunting but it feels like a lost island,’ stresses Philippa.

December meant freezing conditions to film Naomie swimming.

‘She wasn’t in a tank, but actually in the water off Osea,’ explains Philippa. ‘She had a very good wetsuit which helped her and a very good marine team. We shot another bit in a massive sea pool in Margate on a very stormy night, which looks amazing but was quite scary to film.’

Like so many in the industry, Philippa’s film Misbehaviour fell victim to pandemic restrictions.

‘It was devastating. It opened in 500 cinemas on the Friday, and by Monday we were in lockdown. It was too late to pull it, but it’s out on DVD. A few weeks later the distributors allowed Pathe to stream it. It’s sad to make something glitzy for the big screen about Miss World in 1970 and for it to end up not having a life in cinema. It’s about the feminists who stormed the stage, and the first black woman won that year. Western beauty was turned on it’s head, but at the same time Bob Hope was covered in flour.’

Movies can take years to come to fruition as they secure funding, and Philippa reveals H is for Hawk, ‘just needs a bit more money,’ with production set for 2021.

‘For television directing I’m the only one who has won the Bafta directors award which is terrible,’ she reflects. ‘It’s lovely to have won one, but this year I was so sad and cross there wasn’t one woman nominated.

Happily, The Third Day really put Essex on the map.

‘I know quite a few people who have saved it up to watch in one hit in a ‘binge-y’ way in two afternoons,’ smiles Philippa, warning they should steel themselves for the intensity. Most stuff gets filmed in an urban setting and it was so nice to go to a remote bit of England and get that amazing atmosphere. It makes me feel we don’t see enough projects set in our country.’

The Third Day is available to view on Sky Box Sets and through Now TV.

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