The Castaways on Paramount+ review: Sheridan Smith's Lost-adjacent drama is deliciously twisty

Nervous flyers, look away

It is one of the oldest literary genres, and for good reason. From Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Homer’s Odyssey, to Lost, Triangle of Sadness and Madagascar, there is something irresistibly alluring about a disparate group of people being shipwrecked on a deserted island, racing against the clock to fight for survival, forced to suspend all social norms and trust one another with their lives.

It is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser because the conditions for a drama are pre-baked into it – it is fertile soil for commentary on the human condition, for romance, action and deception – which is also a reason why it's easy to slip into cliché.

Paramount+’s The Castaways gave every initial sign it might do the same. Based on Lucy Clarke’s best-selling novel, the five-part thriller sees sisters Lori (Sheridan Smith) and Erin (Celine Buckens) treat themselves to an all-inclusive holiday of a lifetime to Fiji, to spend some quality time together. But after a dramatic argument – the details of which are drip-fed over the course of the show – Erin never boards the propellor plane to the second resort. The plane, with Lori on board, fails to arrives at its island destination.

We meet Erin months later, after an investigation concludes that the plane plummeted into the middle of the ocean, with no survivors. Erin is convinced, however, that her sister is still alive – she has spent months down conspiracy theory-adjacent YouTube rabbit holes – and dismisses the payout offered by the insurance company.

Sheridan Smith as Lori

When Lori’s credit card is suddenly used in a corner shop in a remote village in Fiji by the plane’s pilot (Brendan Cowell), whom Erin recognises from CCTV footage, it appears she has been vindicated. She flies to the island by herself to unpick the mystery of her sister’s disappearance, while Lori’s husband and pregnant new girlfriend remain bizarrely, almost comically uninterested in this atonishing new development.

Here, however, things start to get really, really interesting.

Flitting between the two sisters’ perspectives, we see the events leading up to the plane crash (nervous flyers be warned: this is not the show for you), and Lori’s subsequent struggle for survival alongside her motley crew of fellow castaways, all the while attempting to establish who among them has been sabotaging their rescue efforts and why. Meanwhile, Erin’s credibility is also called into question as it becomes clear she hasn’t been completely truthful about what she knows.

Clarke’s deliciously intriguing plot is aided by a standout performance from the intensely likeable Smith, who propels the drama along. Lori’s perspective on the island is the more compelling of the storylines – Buckens's scenes, more action-focused, lack depth and afford her less in the way of character development, meaning that the comparison to her wildly charismatic co-star is less than flattering.

After three of the five episodes, there is still genuinely no telling where the story will lead. But if the denouement is as thrilling as the action so far, it will be a payoff worth waiting for.

The Castaways streams on Paramount+ from December 26