I first encountered the novels of John Wyndham while still at school. I started, like many others, with The Day of the Triffids and remember being blown away by the sheer inventiveness of it. Wyndham’s ‘home counties disaster’ genre was unlike anything I’d ever read before. And then I picked up a copy of The Midwich Cuckoos, which again had an inspired idea at its heart and was deliciously creepy.
It’s not surprising that the movies soon got in on the action. Cuckoos was first filmed in 1960 as Village of the Damned, only two years after the novel’s release. It’s a bold move to attempt to bring Wyndham’s story up to date, but this seven part series from Sky Max, created and written by David Farr, does a pretty good job of it.
Keely Hawes stars as psychologist Dr Susannah Zellaby, struggling to connect with her daughter, Cassie (Synnove Karlsen), who has a history of poor mental health and drug abuse. On a rare trip into London, Susannah is horrified to hear of a mystifying occurrence in her home village of Midwich. After a sudden, inexplicable loss of power, everybody in the village falls unconscious at the same moment. When they wake, twenty-four hours later, it’s to the bizarre discovery that every female resident – including Cassie – has fallen pregnant. Susannah finds herself increasingly drawn into working with the initially bewildered new mothers.
The government quickly moves in to keep the event a closely guarded secret. As time moves on, the babies are born and it’s soon becomes apparent that these are no ordinary children. They grow faster than they ought to, they demonstrate learning abilities beyond their years and, it transpires, they have a collective ‘hive’ consciousness. If something happens to one of them, the rest know about it instantly. And they are very, VERY protective of each other.
The Midwich depicted here is entirely believable: a middle-class, middle-income suburb, populated by characters who are fleshed out beyond the usual stereotypes. The production team have wisely moved away from the blonde-haired Village of the Damned kids and created something entirely different – and the creepiness of the source novel is effectively conveyed, the young actors exuding their sinister presence. Resident police officer Paul Haynes (Max Beesley), who ironically lost his pregnant wife during the blackout, has the unenviable task of attempting to make sense of it all, while also establishing a relationship with his wife’s sister, Jodie (Lara Rossi), and the strange boy she has given birth to.
Plaudits should go to the four cinematographers who filmed the lush, sun-drenched locations, which contrast effectively with the eerie sci-fi elements, making them all the more powerful. The story builds effectively over seven episodes to a suspenseful – and quite cold-blooded – climax. I’m slightly perturbed by the fact that this is referred to as ‘Season 1.’ I seriously doubt there’s much more to say about this story, but of course, Village of the Damned had its own (inferior) sequel back in the day and perhaps it’s inevitable that more will follow.
For now, this makes for the perfect binge-watch.