The Midwich Cuckoos may be based on John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel, published way back in 1957, yet its timely themes transcend genres.
“It doesn’t feel like horror, it doesn’t feel like out-and-out sci-fi,” Keeley Hawes, who plays Dr. Susannah Zellaby in the upcoming mystery series, tells Total Film. “It’s more nuanced than that, it’s very emotional and moving. Tonally, it’s quite difficult to put it into a box which is really good. It’s one of those shows that makes you think and debate, and creepy kids are just always good, aren’t they?”
Wyndham’s book, which previously served as the blueprint for Wolf Rilla’s acclaimed film Village of the Damned (1960), has been updated for the new show, which follows therapist Zellaby, her daughter Cassie, and several of their Midwich neighbors. On one seemingly random evening, the residents of the titular town all pass out, and any outsiders who enter suffer the same fate, too. After a nerve-racking few hours, the blackout inexplicably lifts, however, and everyone gains consciousness again – but, in a deeply unnerving twist, all the women of childbearing age soon discover that they’re pregnant.
Some expectant mothers are terrified, insisting that they’ve not had sex in months, while Aisling Loftus’s character Zoë Moran, who has been trying to have a baby with her husband Sam (Ukweli Roach), is elated. Accelerated pregnancies lead to a bunch of simultaneous births, and it slowly becomes clear that there’s more to the Midwich newborns than meets the eye.
“I guess the idea of being taken over by something quite foreign is maybe quite relatable in a post-COVID world,” Synnøve Karlsen, who plays Cassie, says when asked why now was the right time to revisit a story that was originally conjured up 65 years ago. “But also just as a woman, I’ve not experienced pregnancy but a lot of my friends are going through it at the moment, I thought it was interesting, this idea of carrying something foreign inside you that’s almost alien-like, and it comes out and it seems completely innocent, but then in this case, it’s that innocence that comes into question. It’s eerie.”
“The show has been very surprising in that things are becoming more pertinent in the time that they’ve been developing it,” Hawes adds. “There’s the parallels with COVID and governments taking over the streets and keeping people in their homes. There’s also what’s been going on with [abortion laws] in America. It’s amazing how a sci-fi show that isn’t based in any sort of reality can have such relevance to things going on today. All of the characters have different dilemmas.”
“I think one of the big themes is, like, autonomy over your own body, especially at the beginning of the series,” continues Karlsen. “All of these women become pregnant, and it’s ultimately not something that’s up to them, which in the US especially, is something that’s coming up time and time again. It was really interesting.”
Elsewhere in the show, Max Beesley portrays DCI Paul Haynes, a police officer who suffered a personal tragedy during the blackout, as Cherrelle Skeete, Lara Rossi, Lewis Reeves, and Hannah Tointon round out the supporting cast. The Night Manager scribe David Farr, Namsi Khan, Sasha Hails, and Laura Lomas penned the scripts, while Doctor Who’s Alice Troughton shares directing duties with Jennifer Perrott and Börkur Sigthorsson.
The Midwich Cuckoos will be available to stream on Sky Max and NOW from Thursday, June 2. In the meantime, why not check out our roundup of the best TV shows of all time for some viewing inspiration.