The Midwich Cuckoos: Keeley Hawes on Sky's gripping new drama adapted from John Wyndham’s sci-fi novel
- Credit: SKY UK
A chilling new adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos arrives on Sky featuring scenes filmed in St Albans.
Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, It’s A Sin) and Max Beesley (The Outsider, Suits) star in the "gripping" new Sky Original drama The Midwich Cuckoos. The series is available on Sky Max and NOW from today - Thursday, June 2.
The seven-part series is a modern-day reimagining of John Wyndham’s sci-fi classic novel of the same name, told more from a female perspective this time.
The Midwich Cuckoos has been adapted for the small screen by Emmy Award-nominated writer David Farr, of The Night Manager fame.
"The pedigree of people involved was amazing," says Keeley Hawes, who plays gifted psychotherapist Dr Susannah Zellaby in the Sky series.
"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!"
- 1 Man stabbed in St Albans
- 2 Aldi prioritises St Albans for new store
- 3 WATCH: Delivery driver caught fly-tipping in rural area
- 4 St Albans paedophile jailed for trying to arrange online abuse
- 5 Area Guide: The historic St Michael's village area of St Albans
- 6 St Albans woman defies odds to become oldest with Rett Syndrome
- 7 Sentence increase for St Albans theatre stalwart jailed for paedophilia
- 8 Major architectural firm moves into St Albans
- 9 Drum kit, CD player and stereo stolen in burglary
- 10 Daughter taking the plunge in mum's memory
Set in the present day, Keeley's character Susannah is a highly respected pillar of the community, while co-star Max Beesley plays DCI Paul Haynes, the senior police officer in Midwich.
"This story felt very new and fresh and David Farr’s writing is just wonderful," says Keeley.
"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."
Referring to Farr's writing, Keeley continues: "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."
The Midwich Cuckoos is produced by Route 24, backed by ITV Studios and Snowed-In Productions, in association with Sky Studios.
However, it's not the first version of Wyndham's 1957 sci-fi novel. It was made into a film, entitled Village of the Damned, in 1960.
That movie was largely filmed in Letchmore Heath, with the Hertfordshire village doubling for Midwich. Scenes were also filmed on location nearby in Aldenham and Elstree.
John Carpenter's 1995 remake of Village of the Damned, starring Superman actor Christopher Reeve and Cheers' Kirstie Alley, moves the action to California.
Location filming of Sky's new adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos mostly took place in Amersham, Buckinghamshire last year. Scenes were also shot in St Stephen's Avenue, St Albans.
Who stars in The Midwich Cuckoos?
The Midwich Cuckoos stars Keeley Hawes as psychotherapist Dr Susannah Zellaby and Max Beesley as DCI Paul Haynes. Synnøve Karlsen plays Suzannah's daughter Cassie Stone, and Aisling Loftus (A Discovery of Witches) is Zoe Moran.
The new Sky series also features Cherrelle Skeete (Hanna) as MI5 officer Bryony Cummings, Ukweli Roach (Blindspot) as Zoe's partner Sam Clyde, and Samuel West (All Creatures Great and Small).
The cast includes Lara Rossi (Robin Hood) as Jodie Blake, Deborah Haynes’ sister, Lewis Reeves (I May Destroy You) as Curtis Saunders, and Hannah Tointon as Rachel Saunders.
The Midwich Cuckoos hatches onto Sky Max from June 2, with all episodes streaming on NOW.
What is the plot of Sky's The Midwich Cuckoos?
Midwich, a small English commuter town within easy reach of London, is liberal and aspirational, populated by nuclear families and affluent streets.
A place where nothing much happens – that is until 9.47pm one summer’s day when a sleepy corner of Midwich is plunged into panic.
Every person inside a small area of Midwich suddenly falls unconscious without warning, without reason.
Anyone who tries to enter the zone 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 family and child psychotherapist Dr Susannah Zellaby (Keeley Hawes) to help support those affected.
Her troubled 23-year-old daughter, Cassie Stone (Synnøve Karlsen), has also fallen pregnant and Susannah harbours deep concerns about who, or what, is behind this phenomenon.
Local officer DCI Paul Haynes (Max Beesley) is tasked with maintaining order but unbeknownst to them all, a terrifying force is growing in Midwich.
Building the tension over the course of seven episodes, The Midwich Cuckoos is an unsettling, strange and at times horrifying journey into parenthood, which lays bare any parent’s worst fear: that the thing most precious to us – a child – might want our destruction.
Max Beesley says: "The role of the cuckoos is so inspired. As the drama progresses, we see more and more elements of their power in the hive mind.
"The kids present their parents with a terrifying dichotomy: their love for their child is fighting against a very clearly unknown force. What do they know about this child? The answer is absolutely nothing.
"The kids are a completely unknown entity, and that’s really frightening. Heinous, heavy-duty things happen, and Paul starts to see that they are the result of these children. It makes for gripping drama."
Why should you watch The Midwich Cuckoos?
Keeley Hawes says: "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."
Playing Keeley's screen daughter Cassie is Synnøve Karlsen. She says: "We filmed this when we had just come off the back of lockdown, and we were all feeling very isolated. Cassie is very isolated, and so I completely related to her.
"One of the first lines I read in the script was Susannah saying to Cassie, 'do you want a cup of tea, love?' And at that very moment, my mother had just asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. I thought, 'this is very similar to my life!'"
Synnøve believes viewers will identify with the world of Midwich.
"Audiences will really relate to this world because in recent times we’ve been through our own form of Armageddon. Something mad has happened.
"We’ve been through a pandemic, and people are driving around looking for petrol. Maybe the world is doomed. We are more willing to believe that now.
"We can lean into that madness and isolation because that has been our own experience for the last two years."
There are further parallels between The Midwich Cuckoos and our society today.
"There is the concept of something alien invading and infecting people. There is also the idea of the government having complete control," says Synnøve.
"You see this tiny community kept under such close watch by the government. That became the norm for everyone during lockdown."
Lewis Reeves, who plays born and bred Midwich resident Curtis Saunders, hopes audiences think it’s "really good fun".
"It’s an excellent thriller. With Sky, you know you’re in safe hands. It has a great writer and directors and actors.
"I think people will sit back and get a tremendous kick out of it. We all really need escapism at the moment, and this will provide that.
"Viewers will be thinking, 'where is this going next?' as the coil tightens and tightens. I think people will love it."
How has John Wyndham's novel been adapted for Sky's The Midwich Cuckoos series?
Sky's new version of The Midwich Cuckoos is a modern adaptation of John Wyndham's novel and expands the story to focus on the families, and in particular the mothers, affected by events.
Synnøve Karlsen, who plays Cassie Stone, says: "It’s a fascinating interpretation and it might well lead to a revival of interest in John Wyndham.
"It’s very clever in modernising the story and relating it more to women, highlighting the issue of the maternal instinct which isn’t in the original.
"In the book, Dr Zellaby was a 60-year-old man, but that character is now a woman [Susannah Zellaby, played by Keeley Hawes].
"David [Farr] has really hit the nail on the head with that because the story is about motherhood.
"That is all the more haunting when the children grow up with this hive mind and go against their parents."
Max Beesley's character, DCI Paul Haynes, experiences personal tragedy in the series. Of The Midwich Cuckoos, Beesley says: "I was very drawn to it because of David’s marvellous writing.
"I really enjoyed The Night Manager and knew what a terrific writer he was.
"Also, I’d known Keeley for 25 years, but we had never worked together before. She’s such a fantastic actress. I was an avid watcher of Line of Duty and she was flawless in that.
"She was unforgettable as DI Lindsay Denton – Keeley was so good, I even remember her character’s name! So saying yes to The Midwich Cuckoos was a no-brainer for me."
As for Farr's writing, Max adds: "He is so clever. He writes fabulous dialogue. When you say his words, you think, 'I totally believe that'.
"David is superb at constructing a through-line. Over the course of the series, he has many twigs branching off the tree, but he still knows exactly how the journey will end.
"The Midwich Cuckoos involves 28 key characters over seven episodes – it has so many moving parts. I don’t know how he does it!"
Aisling Loftus plays one of the Midwich 'cuckoo mums', Zoe Moran.
Zoe and her partner, teacher Sam Clyde (Ukweli Roach), are a young couple who move to the beautiful countryside of Midwich to escape the metropolitan rat race. But then the blackout happens...
Aisling was already familiar with John Wyndham's novel.
"The drama group I went to as a kid had done The Midwich Cuckoos as a play, so I had very strong memories of it.
"Then when I saw David Farr’s name on this script, I was so excited to read it. I thought, 'this is going to be something else!' – and I was not disappointed."
Aisling adds: "It is such a potent story. It really spoke to me. All the characters are trapped, and the cuckoos are a really malevolent presence.
"After getting this job, I read all the Wyndham books that I could, from The Kraken Wakes and Day of the Triffids to The Chrysalids and his short stories. He is such an amazing writer."
When asked why The Midwich Cuckoos still strikes such a chord with us, Aisling replies: "Because it’s so compelling.
"When you read the news, it doesn’t feel so far away. You can really relate to this village.
"If it was set in space, you’d think, 'I’m never going to go there'. But setting it somewhere middle-class in Middle England is very relatable and highlights the absurdity of what’s happening to these people.
"Because the situation is within arms’ reach, it gets under your skin more. Viewers won’t be able to distance themselves from this story. They will want to gobble it up."
The Midwich Cuckoos will premiere on Thursday, June 2, at 9pm on Sky Max.