TV - The Midwich Cuckoos

Ahead of the start of a new adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos on Sky Max next week, read a short interview with one of the stars, Keeley Hawes...

Sky Original drama The Midwich Cuckoos, is a dark modern-day reimagining of John Wyndham’s classic science fiction novel of the same name. BAFTA-nominated Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, It’s A Sin), and Max Beesley (The Outsider, Suits) lead this unnerving fable.

Midwich, a small English commuter town, is liberal and aspirational, populated by nuclear families and affluent streets. A place where nothing much happens – that is until the twilight hours of a summer’s day when a sleepy corner of Midwich is plunged into panic. People pass out on their feet without warning, without reason. Anyone who tries to enter meets the same fate. And nobody can understand why. When the mysterious blackout is lifted, life for those affected returns to apparent normality - except every woman of child-bearing age inside the zone has suddenly and inexplicably fallen pregnant.

As news spreads and tensions simmer, it is up to gifted psychotherapist Dr Susannah Zellaby (Hawes) to help support those affected through the emotional wilderness. Susannah’s own daughter, Cassie (Synnøve Karlsen), has fallen pregnant and harbours deep concerns about who, or what, is behind this phenomenon.

Local officer DCI Paul Haynes (Beesley) is tasked with maintaining order but unbeknownst to them all, a terrifying force is building in the comfortable streets of Midwich. These children – potential parasites - flourish under the very love and care that their families give them. Who are these children? And what do they want?

Keeley Hawes plays Dr Susannah Zellaby. A family and child psychotherapist, intellectually brilliant and a natural leader, Susannah is a highly respected pillar of the community in Midwich. She has a troubled and complicated relationship with her 23 year-old daughter Cassie who still lives with her because of personal problems. The arrival of the children puts Susannah under intense pressure professionally and personally, as she struggles to understand the children’s nature and fears what they intend, but has to protect Cassie at all costs.

Here is her interview:

What appealed to you about The Midwich Cuckoos?

The pedigree of people involved was amazing. I’d worked with the executive producer Ruth Kenley- Letts before on The Casual Vacancy, Mrs Wilson and The Tunnel. She has great taste, and I adore and trust her. When she said, “We are doing this thing called The Midwich Cuckoos,” I immediately thought, “If it’s Ruth, it’s going to be great,” – and it was! This story felt very new and fresh and David Farr’s writing is just wonderful. I loved his metaphor of a village where Susannah is the priestess and Paul is the sheriff. That’s how he sold it to me.

What distinguishes David Farr’s writing?

His scripts read like a brilliant novel. They’re so multi-layered. Nothing is overwritten. He allows the characters lots of space just to be. David knows you can recount an entire backstory with a single phrase. You don’t need a whole monologue.

How would you describe your character?

Dr Susannah Zellaby works with children and is a very gentle, very maternal soul with a particular interest in how the mind works. She has a troubled relationship with her daughter Cassie and feels a lot of shame and regret about an incident in the past involving her. When we first meet them, Cassie has been struggling with mental health issues and has moved back home with her mother. Susannah is someone who carries a lot of baggage.

How does Susannah’s story unfold?

Because of what she does for a living, she is fascinated when these children are born and feels we can learn from them and that they can help us to become better people. That is her intention – until they become a little bit creepy!

What role does she play in the village?

Susannah is a pillar of the community. She becomes more and more so because the women need someone to talk to about their experiences. The government are overseeing the crisis and come to Midwich and quickly see how fantastic Susannah is. She is entirely invested in the situation because of her own child. She is not a government figure and the women respond to her, trust her, and feel able to go to her. She tries to maintain that trust in very difficult circumstances.

How have you found it working with the children?

It’s been amazing. I can’t praise them enough. There is something lovely about working with children. If they believe something, they really go for it. They are very open and technically brilliant. They’ll be directing their own dramas soon! I say, always work with children and animals if you can.

How would you characterise the look of the children?

They look quite retro. They wear blazers which lend themselves to that old-fashioned atmosphere. The fact that the children are perfectly presented makes them eerie. Usually, children have one sock on and one sock off, but these kids are immaculate at all times. That makes them “other.”

Will viewers find The Midwich Cuckoos unsettling?

Yes. If you were sitting down to watch this, I’d hope you’d feel disturbed! It’s very subtle and builds slowly until the danger becomes more apparent. If you think about the idea – where you wake up pregnant and have no idea how it happened – that’s bound to be troubling. I’m glad I wasn’t playing one of the mothers as I found it very difficult to put myself in their shoes. At the same time, it’s happening to Susannah’s daughter, and Cassie is her blood, so she’s very much involved.

Do you think drama plays a key role in tough times?

Absolutely. The Durrells is a great example of that. I’ve lost count of the number of people who got in touch to say, “The Durrells made me forget about these hard times. When I was watching it, I felt like I was on holiday. I lived vicariously through you and was transported away from this difficult world for an hour. It’s been wonderful.” Drama creates a conversation and a connection, and that is so important. People are bereft without that communal experience.

The Midwich Cuckoos comes to Sky Max from 2nd June, with all episodes streaming on NOW.

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