John Wyndam’s celebrated sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos has made its TV debut, but star Keeley Hawes admits she’s never read the original book.
“I didn’t think it would be particularly useful,” she confesses.
Sky’s new 7-part chiller brings the classic tale about creepy kids with uncanny powers bang up to date, with a clever reimaging by writer creator David Farr.
“It’s a wonderful book, but it’s obviously of its time,” Farr says. It was written in 1957.
For his modern reimaging, Farr has flipped Wyndam’s lead character, Professor Gordon Zellaby, into psychotherapist Dr Susannah Zellaby, played by Hawes.
Farr is known for his strong characters. Previous credits include the critically acclaimed The Night Manager, and Hanna.
Here he resists the siren call of genre of action, and builds tension with a strong ensemble cast, including Max Beesley (The Outsider), Cherrelle Skeete (Hanna), Aisling Loftus (A Discovery of Witches), Rebekah Staton (Raised by Wolves) and Anneika Rose (Line of Duty).
There’s one explosion in the opening episode, but the show owes more to the bizarre sixties TV of Dennis Spooner and Brian Clemens (Department S, The Avengers and their ilk) than its modern genre peers.
Writer Farr has flipped Wyndam’s lead character, Professor Gordon Zellaby, into psychotherapist Dr Susannah Zellaby…
In a nutshell: The town of Midwich is the focus of a strange blackout, which knocks out communication and power, and renders all those within unconscious. When the mysterious blackout lifts, it quickly becomes apparent that every woman has suddenly and inexplicably fallen pregnant.
Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers via The Omen and Call the Midwife.
“All of the women are taken over by the life growing inside them, and it takes over their wellbeing in general,” says Hawes.
The story has been brought to the screen before. Most famously with the eerie 1960 thriller Village of the Damned, in which George Sanders plays Zellaby. A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1964. Village of the Damned was remade by John Carpenter in 1995.
“It’s about how a community reacts to this weird thing,” says Farr. “What I love about the story, the way we’ve done it, is that it’s really about family, what it’s like to bring a life into the world and then not be sure if it’s yours. If it loves you at all, even if it seems to. We’ve made some changes to the book to make that more interesting…”
This includes making the children are not so obviously alien. “Wyndham’s children were all identical. That didn’t feel right for us, because we wanted to explore attachment, and families.”
The “weird species takeover is still there though,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed playing with the balance of that.”
“I had long conversations with my writers about whether this attachment was utterly inevitable, because there’s no question that the children have a very strong power. They can make the mothers do certain things. It’s scary. But then on the other hand, the child knows it needs to attach itself for protection. They need to grow, to be safe. But if that attachment isn’t available, maybe they’ll go somewhere else?”
“That’s why they’re called the cuckoos. We use the nest metaphor a lot.”
The Midwich Cuckoos is screening on Sky Max and the Now streaming service.
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