Naomie Harris, new writers and ‘psychological drama’: what to expect from Winter on The Third Day

Abigail Chandler
·4-min read

Summer has passed, and Osea’s autumn festival has been and gone. When we return to the island a grim winter is waiting to greet Naomie Harris’s Helen, as she and her children Ellie (Nico Parker) and Talulah (Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell) arrive on Osea. Helen wants to give her children a fun break, but finds the island distinctly unwelcoming. The more determined Helen is to stay, the more the viewers suspect that this isn’t just a family holiday for her …

New creators
As well as Harris, Winter hosts a spattering of new cast members – including Paul Kaye – joining some of the familiar island residents. There’s also a new director, Philippa Lowthorpe, taking the reins, and two new writers joining Dennis Kelly. Kit de Waal, the award-winning writer of My Name is Leon, and her co-writer and brother, Dean O’Loughlin, joined the team for what was their first screenwriting gig, after their sample screenplay found its way into Kelly’s hands. “This was like being catapulted into the Premier League just like that, for our first thing,” de Waal says.

According to the siblings, their first meeting with Kelly and co-creator Felix Barrett felt like an audition, and O’Loughlin says they soon realised that “it wasn’t just ‘come in and write two episodes of my six-parter that’s set in stone’, it’s very much ‘come in and give something of yourself to the concept’,” which, at the time, was still in a surprisingly nebulous state. O’Loughlin says their approach to writing differed dramatically from Kelly’s: “We’re Kraftwerk and he’s Miles Davis, he’s free-forming and we’re plotting.”

Luckily, while their writing styles brought very different things to the table, de Waal and O’Loughlin had a lot in common with Kelly and Barrett. “Dennis is from the same background as us. There are five siblings in the house, Irish connection, Dad was a bus driver,” O’Loughlin says, listing the uncanny similarities between them, whereas Barrett had a similar religious upbringing to them, which helped to form certain aspects of The Third Day. “We were brought up as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is a very closed community,” de Waal explains, adding: “It’s very good if you want alienation [in the show], to have a religious or spiritual community and a non-spiritual [person] colliding.”

Harris takes the lead
“I found the story absolutely gripping; I read it all in one sitting,” says Harris. “I loved the world that was created, it was unlike anything I’d read before.” She was immediately drawn to the character of Helen, calling her “powerful and aggressive, and a warrior at times. But she’s also a mother who is loving and gentle and is suffering from grief.”

Related: ‘I never really understand genre’: the writer of The Third Day on why he refuses to define his new series

As with Summer, grief winds itself tightly around Winter, informing the characters’ decisions and the show’s tone. “She’s had some trauma in her life,” de Waal says. “And she doesn’t want to pass that on to her girls.” O’Loughlin explains that they modelled Helen on people they know, fellow city-dwellers who have had to develop a thick armour, so that when she “comes up against these different personalities [on Osea], things that she considers racism, or just the differentness of them, she’s prepared, she’s got some sort of defence mechanism that anyone who lives in a city has got, and maybe being a black woman, more so”.

Harris describes Osea as a “Marmite” place – visitors either really take to it, or can’t wait to leave. During filming, O’Loughlin was taken with the island’s unique aura: “When you’re cut off you do feel like things could happen there,” he says.

Defying genre
The Third Day resists categorisation, but de Waal has some ideas on the show’s strongest elements. “I know there are certain horror aspects to it, but for me it’s much more of a psychological thriller … In horror films when you’ve seen the monster, you’ve seen the monster. I think psychological dramas have much more reverberations a week later. Psychological thrillers affect your psyche much more.”

O’Loughlin calls the horror elements “almost like a red herring”. But he adds ominously that “the real power and the real danger of being on that island is what happens to your head” – which sounds pretty horrific to us.

The Third Day is available now on Sky