John Wyndham’s iconic sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos gets reframed for modern-day audiences in a new series starring Max Beesley and Keeley Hawes, ditching its male lead in favour of a more ensemble-based mystery instead.
“There’s always a worry that because you’re separated from each other that you might be playing your scenes in a style that doesn’t seem like you’re in the same show as everybody else,” laughs Hawes, as she discusses the character-driven show with Total Film. “But Alice Troughton, our director, managed all that very well and kept us all in the same world. I mean, we don’t know what’s going on in the room next door. I don’t know what’s happening with my family at the moment, so there’s something quite truthful to it, too. And even though we’d read the scripts, we hadn’t seen it, so it was a treat to finally see it all play out.”
Based on the 1957 book, which previously served as the blueprint for Wolf Rilla’s acclaimed film Village of the Damned (1960), the seven-parter follows Dr. Susannah Zellaby (Hawes), her daughter Cassie, and several of their neighbors. One random evening, the residents of the titular Midwich all pass out, and any out-of-towners who rock up 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 are pregnant.
Some expectant mothers are frightened by the news, all too aware that it didn’t happen naturally, 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, before it slowly becomes clear that there’s more to the youngsters – who grow rapidly, and can communicate with one another telepathically – than meets the eye.
Keen to delve into the interpersonal relationships and explore the psychological effects of having your life taken over by a mysterious force, creator and writer David Farr made his Zellaby a female therapist – the novel’s Zellaby is a man, and a scientist – to authentically weave in conversations about feelings. He also made sure that most of the pregnant women were full-fledged characters, which is not necessarily true of Wyndham’s original works.
“There are lots of group therapy scenes involving all of the characters, as well, so we got to see snippets of different characters’ lives while filming those, which was fun,” Synnøve Karlsen, who plays Cassie, adds. “Seeing the kids as an ensemble themselves was the biggest shock for me. A lot of us have our own scenes within the larger story that are quite isolated, so it was very cool watching it all come together as a viewer.”
“The kids are incredible, and the way they cast the small children to the big children is amazing,” Loftus chimes in. “Our designer, Amy Stewart, who did the hair and makeup, she had all these really particular looks for all of the children and they’re perfect. Of course, kids in real life want to throw themselves around, they want to sing and dance. She had a really difficult task, keeping them all pristine but yeah, it was great.”
During our chat, Lara Rossi, who plays Jodie, another of the unwitting mothers, claimed that the new series is a “lot more chilling than the book” because it doesn’t shy away from highlighting each woman’s genuine fears and concerns.
“Our series is a lot more modern and diverse,” she says, as Loftus agrees: “I know I’m biased, but I think this is the best version, because with the other ones, with the book, it’s told from an outside perspective. He’s a visitor to the town. Whereas with this, we’re on the inside of the story, and it’s the blood and the guts of what if this really happened to people. It’s much more fleshed out. It’s really chilling.”
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.