DQ heads to the beach to find the cast and crew of Paramount+ series The Castaways filming this mystery thriller based on Lucy Clarke’s novel, in which two sisters are separated after an apparent plane crash.
Emerging from the blue, blue sea onto the sun-drenched beach of Plaka, near Pilio, four hours north of Athens, Sheridan Smith is laughing and joking with the crew. As she brushes her blonde locks out of her eyes and an assistant director hands her a towel, the actor waves happily at the camera, apparently without a care in the world.
She looks like one very cheerful castaway. However, this is Smith off duty.
On duty, it’s quite a different matter. Lori, her character in The Castaways, a riveting new five-part thriller filmed in both Greece and Fiji, has a much tougher time. In fact, she has to go through hell and high water in a desperate struggle to survive.
Produced by Clapperboard Studios and BlackBox Multimedia for Paramount+ UK in association with BBC Studios and directed by twins Andy and Ryan Tohill, The Castaways focuses on sisters Lori (Smith) and Erin (Showtrial’s Céline Buckens).
In this adaptation by Ben Harris (Demons) of Lucy Clarke’s bestselling novel, which begins on Paramount+ on December 26, the siblings are travelling to Fiji for the holiday of a lifetime.
However, the pair have a huge row en route, and Erin refuses to get on the flight to the paradise island with her sister. Then to her horror, she finds out that the plane, with Lori on board, failed to arrive at its destination. There appear to be no survivors.
In the end, the search is halted, but Erin will not stop hunting for her lost sister, and months after the crash, Lori’s credit card is activated in a far-flung village in Fiji. Erin identifies the plane’s pilot, who seems to have come back from the dead, from CCTV footage and she immediately flies back to Fiji to try to get to the bottom of her sister’s disappearance.
In parallel to that, we track Lori’s battle for survival after the plane ditches in the remotest Fijian jungle. Gradually, it is revealed what has occurred, but someone is prepared to murder in order to keep that a secret.
In making the drama in both Fiji and Greece, the production team faced almost as many challenges as its characters. Myf Hopkins, the producer, reveals: “In Greece, we hit difficulties with the intense heat in the summer. We had a scene where we needed to light fires, but we couldn’t do that because fires were banned in Greece due to the heatwave. So we had to be clever and find our own way of doing it. We had to replicate something in post production.”
But despite such obstacles, the directors wouldn’t have had it any other way. For them, real locations are essential to the texture of the drama.
Andy Tohill, who with Ryan also helmed acclaimed movie The Dig, about two characters battling it out in an oppressive muddy peat hellscape in Northern Ireland, says: “Because we are influenced by westerns and extreme wide shots, making the landscape a character in the piece is of massive important to us.
“For all the logistical nightmares these locations can bring, it’s half the reason for doing it. We must embrace it and put up with it. It’s par for the course.”
Ryan chimes in: “The landscape is so important because it’s the stage where the story is set. The landscape in The Dig was a formidable adversary in that it bore down on the protagonists, and this is very similar. We have a huge island, but it is also a cage you can’t escape that just happens to be paradise.”
Andy adds: “It’s a crucible where the human spirit is exposed at its most brutal and unforgiving. Lori finds her strength and a few other characters discover things about themselves, for good and for worse.”
The locations certainly endow The Castaways with a very authentic feel. “To conjure up the experience of looking out to sea from the beach, that expanse and that horizon, you could put up backdrops in a studio, but you wouldn’t get that same sense of space,” Hopkins observes. “So we found a beach in Greece where we couldn’t see anything around us. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, which is what we needed. We had that visceral sense of water and sea and wind coming through, which you get on a real location. The cast really felt they were living on a beach, which they were for a lot of the time.”
The Fijian locations also give The Castaways a great sense of realism. According to Hopkins, “Everywhere you look in Fiji, there are palm trees and banana trees. You can’t really create that landscape anywhere else. As well as the Fijian scenery, we also had Fijian people as supporting artists.
“You really feel you’re in that country. It’s not just about the look, it’s about the people, it’s about the atmosphere, it’s about the sound. It’s hard to recreate that on the back lot of Pinewood.”
The directors have a very particular shooting style, which lends itself well to the high-adrenaline story of The Castaways. They had to work with “motorbikes, boats, planes and conspiracies,” says Ryan. “I’m very surprised there wasn’t a train in it. That’s the only one missing!
“Part of the appeal is the challenge of exploring how to shoot on a motorbike or a boat. The plane crash and the aftermath were a lot of fun to do. Anything where it puts actors and characters in scenarios where we don’t know how they are going to react to the elements – we sink our teeth into that.”
Andy adds: “We feel that TV can feel a bit safe. That was one of the big attractions to this. We can really do some interesting, action-led, high-paced thriller direction here. We used a lot of handheld camera work to make it a bit rawer and a bit grittier.”
“A note to costume was, ‘Remember John McClane at the end of Die Hard? Let’s do that,’” recalls Ryan.
The makers of The Castaways trust it will provide audiences with “something you don’t always see on British TV,” as Andy puts it. “Something that is tense and full of kinetic, crazy, confused energy. It can be violent. It can be sweaty, bloody, emotional, touching. The story has so much to offer.”
The Castaways, its producers hope, will also furnish viewers with the kind of escapist fare audiences always love to consume after the festive turkey. “That post-Christmas slump is a wonderful time for a big transportive thriller show,” says Clarke.
“I don’t tend to watch as much in the summer months, but I am so ready at Christmas for a log fire on, all the good snacks, just nestle in. There is nothing I would rather watch than a show that transports you somewhere beautiful, but that also has that feeling of, ‘I cannot stop watching.’ I’m hoping that is how viewers will feel when they watch The Castaways.”
Finally, the cast reflect on one scene in The Castaways that they didn’t shoot on location: the plane crash. “That was the most dramatic day of filming,” remembers Dominic Tighe (The Boys in the Boat), who plays Daniel, another survivor of the accident.
“We did it in a studio in Athens. They built this incredible aeroplane interior where the seats could all be moved, the walls and the ceiling could come out and you could bring a crane in. They relied on the good old-fashioned Hollywood tricks of shaky camera and lighting effects, but it is very, very effective. They didn’t need to build one of those hydraulic simulators.
“It’s an important scene because it is episode one and you have to grab the audience with that. That was a tiring four or five days in a tube with lots of smoke. We filmed it in sequence, so the anxiety levels got higher and higher as the days went on – to the point where we were all covered in blood.”
So how did Tighe feel boarding a flight again after shooting such a realistic-looking plane crash? “I did wonder when I was travelling,” he says. “I actually read the scripts again on a plane, and I thought, ‘This isn’t a good idea!’”