“Creepy kids are always good aren’t they?!” Keeley Hawes laughs when we speak to her about her new series, The Midwich Cuckoos.
Indeed, considering John Wyndham’s classic novel has been adapted numerous times since it was first published in 1957 (with probably its most famous adaption being Wolf Rilla’s 1960 horror, The Village Of The Damned), the story of the creepy kids from a remote village is certainly popular!
The Midwich Cuckoos tells the story of the quiet commuter town of Midwich where one evening everyone within a set area of the town falls unconscious. A strange enough occurrence, which only gets stranger when it soon becomes apparent that every woman of child-bearing age inside the zone has suddenly and inexplicably fallen pregnant. As the children of the phenomenon grow, it becomes clear they are not of this world.
Now there’s a fresh adaptation of the story in the form of a brand new TV show, which brings Wyndham’s creepy sci-fi bang up to date: “It’s prime for an adaptation and a modern retelling,” says Hawes who plays Dr Zellaby, a child psychologist which, in the original novel, was a male character. “The fact that my character was a man in the original and at the centre of this incredibly female story is very telling and it just wouldn’t seem right to make it in that way now.”
“I know I’m biased, but I think that this is the best version, because with the other ones, with the book, it’s told from an outside perspective,” agrees Aisling Loftus who plays Zoe, one of the women who become pregnant after that fateful night. “And 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 modern, and it’s really chilling because of that, I think.”
Also, just like all good genre, its themes still feel relevant today, especially after the pandemic. “The idea of motherhood and this idea that we’re taken over by something quite foreign is maybe quite relatable in a post COVID world,” explains Synnøve Karlsen who plays Cassie, Dr Zellaby’s daughter and another woman who has become pregnant after the unexplained event. “But also, as a woman (and I don’t know having not been through pregnancy, but with lots of friends that are going through them at the moment) it was definitely an interesting parallel. This idea of growing something foreign inside you that’s almost alien-like, that comes out and is so innocent, but then, in this case, that innocence is ultimately what’s questioned and quite eerie about the whole thing…”
After finding out they’re pregnant, the people of Midwich react in varying ways. While some are overjoyed to be pregnant, like Loftus’ character Zoe (who has been trying for a baby with her husband), others are obviously frightened and attempt to abort the unexplained phenomenon growing inside them, which is another element of the show that feels all-the-more relevant now as the subject of America’s recent abortion laws come to the front when we’re speaking to the stars of the series: “This show has been very surprising in that things are becoming relevant since they started developing it,” Hawes says. “Just the fact that we’re talking about parallels with COVID and the scene with [the abortion and] what’s going on 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 that are going on today. It’s been really interesting talking about it. People are finding relevance. All the characters have different dilemmas and that’s a very difficult one.”
“I think one of the big ideas is autonomy over your own body, especially at the beginning of the series, where all these women become pregnant and it’s ultimately not something that’s up to them,” Karlsen adds. “In America, it’s just something that’s an ongoing battle that comes up time and time again.”
Once the women of Midwich give birth – on the same day no less – they soon realise their children are, unsurprisingly, unique. But what are they? Are they an alien race? Not only do they age at an exceptionally fast rate, but they all have an uncanny likeliness to each other and are able to communicate non-verbally as a hive mind. Even for those who haven’t seen The Village Of The Damned, that iconic look of the blond-haired children on the movie’s posters is hard to forget.
For this adaptation, the similarities between the children are more subtle. Gone are the blond Caucasian children and replaced with a diverse cast whose similarities are in their mannerisms and their penchant for the colour yellow…
“The wonderful Loulou [Bontemps] did the costumes,” says series writer David Farr. “I think they’re brilliant. There are some clever things that they’ve done with the makeup which I almost don’t want to tell you because they’re so brilliant. But they’ve made the children all slightly similar in odd ways, even though they’re different.
“But the big important thing is we wanted them all to be individual, not literally identical. We wanted something heightened and odd and Loulou came up with a very simple idea which was that her governing colours were the colours of the cuckoo shell, which is pale blue and yellow. The yellow is very present and very successful.
“Then each one was characterised very specifically. She asked lots of questions to try and really understand how she could make small differentiations [between each child]. I was really proud. As soon as I saw what she was doing. I was like ‘oh yeah, she’s got it. She’s found something very special here’.”
Even though the story of these creepy children is now 65 years old, the cast of The Midwich Cuckoos hope that Wyndham’s tale once again enraptures audiences by diverting a little from the original text, steering clear of its previous horror adaptations and bringing the story up-to-date, making it still feel relevant and eerily plausible.
“I think [the show feels] different because it feels possible,” Loftus tells of how this adaptation differs to those that have come before. “Whereas the early versions are horror stories, this feels in the way that The Handmaid’s Tale feels possible. If you believe in alien forces – which, we probably all should, shouldn’t we? – I think it’s really unnerving as a story. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. If you’re living with a malign force, you don’t know from one day to the next what they’re going to do. And there seems to be an end game for these Cuckoos, so I think that’s a really interesting thing to follow.”
“It feels different. It’s not like anything else that’s out there,” Hawes agrees. “It doesn’t feel like a horror. It doesn’t feel like out-and-out sci-fi. It’s more nuanced than that. So tonally, it’s quite difficult to describe and put it into a box, which is really good.
“I think it’s one of the shows that will make people have a think and debate. I hope people enjoy it.”
We’re sure they will! The Midwich Cuckoos is available on Sky Max and streaming service NOW from 2 June