The True Story Behind HBO’s New Series, ‘The Third Day’

A "live theatrical event" will air at the halfway point of the series.


The Third Day is HBO’s latest chiller, set on a mysterious island called Osea which is the home of a cult-like sect that mixes Christianity with worship of a Celtic war god. The series stars Jude Law, Naomie Harris and Katherine Waterston, who are set to learn about the strange world of the British island over six episodes and a live theatrical broadcast.

In the first episode, however, which aired on HBO on Monday, September 14, viewers got their first bit of history about the island of Osea. In that installment, titled “Friday – The Father,” we learned that Osea was bought in the 1900s by a philanthropist who wanted to turn the place into a work camp/rehab center for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. We also learned that this man may have been Jack the Ripper, the killer of at least five female sex workers in London’s East End in the late 1880s.

As some of the viewers of The Third Day might be surprised to know, this is all true. Frederick Nicholas Charrington purchased Osea, which is a real island off the coast of Essex in the United Kingdom, in 1903. He bought the island in order to turn it into a treatment facility, where recovering addicts could stay for free in return for working the land.

Image via Guy Thorne (from The Great Acceptance, The Life Story of F. N. Charrington)

Previously, Charrington had been the heir of a brewing fortune and entered the business in his late teens. However, he soon began to feel guilty at the impact that alcohol abuse was having in London, so he gave up the business and vowed to help the poor. He entered the Temperance movement and campaigned against prostitution and music halls.

It was his campaigns about sex work that has led some to speculate that Charrington may have been Jack the Ripper. At the very least, he closed a number of brothels in London’s East End, which forced sex workers onto the streets and made it easier for the serial killer to find victims. However, some have argued that his close contact with sex workers and his putting them onto the streets rather than brothels was part of his plan to commit a series of murders.

Of course, dozens of eminent male Victorians have been suggested as the real Jack the Ripper, from artist Walter Sickert to author Lewis Carroll, meaning that it is difficult to know how seriously to take these claims.

Though this origin story for Osea as told in The Third Day is all true, the real-life island is very different from the Wicker Man-like isle seen in the HBO show. Though it is true that the road the island disappears for most of the day under the tide as seen in the show, the real Osea is a holiday resort rather than the home of a sinister cult. Until recently, however, it still had a detox clinic, where celebrities like Amy Winehouse visited to try to get clean. However, that has now become a recording studio and wedding venue.

A 2016 Guardian view gives a very different impression of the place than the one given in The Third Day. In this piece, it was said of Osea: “Perhaps just because it was autumn, with leaves turning golden and conkers falling—there was a poignantly disheveled feel about Osea. Post-party confetti was scattered by one of the beach-side gazebos, and stacks of wedding chairs were waiting to be put away for the winter. On one of Osea’s empty grass fields, we found a lost mobile phone and a discarded can of Red Bull. We weren’t having a rave but once on Osea (assuming you bury any scruples you may have about privately-owned islands), you can’t help but feel you can do whatever you want.”

The Third Day airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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