Jude Law in ‘The Third day’ © Sky UK Limited

An island off the British mainland; pagans with a penchant for hoods, masks and antlers; a primitive belief that the island’s ecology is linked to the health of its lord; a sinister pub and publican; an innocent man blundering in under the impression he is saving a young girl . . . does that have a familiar ring? Admittedly writer Dennis Kelly has made a few substitutions, additions and updates to The Wicker Man, chiefly an overlay of drugs and a music-festival vibe. The first three episodes form a standalone story, “Summer”. “Autumn”, a one-off theatrical event set on the island and produced by immersive theatre group Punchdrunk, will be aired on Sky Arts and streamed live on October 3, followed by the three episodes of the final story, “Winter”, beginning on October 6. 

Shot for the most part in an intensively subjective style, “Summer” opens with Sam (Jude Law) sitting in a forest, mysteriously blubbering along to a Florence and the Machine song playing through his headphones. He then stumbles upon a young girl in the woods seemingly intent on hanging herself. After he saves the girl, Epona, she reveals she is from Osea, an island connected to the Essex coastline twice a day by a serpentine causeway. It is fortuitously clear when Sam drives her home. He will not be so lucky again. 

Unorthodox religious beliefs are a godsend for plots, according to the sound Voltairean principle that people who will believe anything will do anything. While some islanders are welcoming (Paddy Considine as folksy pub landlord Mr Martin excessively so), other locals are less joyous about the arrival. Epona’s dad and yokel Larry with the “Eraserhead” hairstyle are particularly menacing. Mr Martin also crosses himself in reverse, and displays mortuary pictures of Jack the Ripper’s victims in the bar, so he’s not much of an ally. His partner (Emily Watson) says things like “You can’t leave!” There’s an ocean of trouble brewing in her blue orbs. 

The only other guest is Jess, a visiting folklore enthusiast. Pay attention to her scanty back-story, it will come in handy later. Katherine Waterston's one-note performance runs the gamut of human emotion from A to the B-word, perhaps calculating that Law has charm enough for both of them. Though tiny, Osea is plentifully provided with thickets and mudflats, derelict buildings and burnt-out caravans, bizarre structures, deadly wells and even its very own desecrated church. Despite a penchant for staring at himself in mirrors, Sam seems a normal enough guy but don’t worry, Law will get to do his best “Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now” impersonation before the credits roll. 

Though a doddery Klaus Kinski lookalike in a white suit is sadly no match for Christopher Lee’s majestic Lord Summerisle, The Third Day is super fun. I just wish that every time someone says “The Darkness is coming!” it would be the band. 

★★★★☆

On HBO from September 14 at 9pm and Sky Atlantic/Now TV from September 15 at 9pm

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