The TV adaptation of Noughts + Crosses is a story of two people from different races who fall for each other in a world filled with prejudice.
700-years-ago the Aprican Empire has conquered most of Europe, including the British Isles. During this period the population of Albion has split into two classes: the dark-skinned Crosses who control the nation, and the Noughts, the light-skinned underclass. Within this society are two families: The McGregors and the Hadleys.
Callum McGregor (Jack Rowan) is a Nought who is set to become one of the first Nought cadets at Mercy Point, Albion’s elite military academy. Sephy (Masali Baduza) is the daughter of Kamal Hadley (Paterson Joseph), a powerful minister within the government with aspirations to become the Prime Minister. Callum and Sephy meet for the first time since they were children and embark on a dangerous relationship.
The strength of the series was its world-building and themes. The world of Noughts + Crosses was based on Apartheid South Africa, Segregation-era America, and European Colonial Regime and touched on commentary on issues like stop and search and police brutality.
The series was set in an alternative version of Britain, so the culture on display was a mix of European and West African. The government of Albion operated a lot like the British government – it had a Prime Minister, both used the title Home Secretary, there was collective cabinet responsibility and can launch a judge lead inquiry. West African culture dominated: people wore African style clothing and hairstyles. Soldiers had to perform an African style war dance at a parade. There were great little details like a painting of an African victory done in a European style.
Whilst Noughts + Crosses was great at showing the big picture the heart of the series was the family issues and Callum and Sephy’s relationship. Callum and Sephy’s story was a modern retelling of Romeo + Juliet. They were young adults from different walks of life: Sephy was a girl of privilege who was well-meaning but naive whilst Callum was from the roughest district of the country who suffers at the hands of institutionalized racism. Their relationship fluctuates throughout the series because of their difficult backgrounds and viewpoints.
Noughts + Crosses could easily be seen having similarities to YA dystopias like The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises, even though Noughts + Crosses was published first. All of them have young adult protagonists and had a romance element. In Noughts + Crosses, the romance was central not a side issue or has a forced love triangle. The show was broadcast after the 9 pm watershed in the UK, so it could be more direct about sex. In the second episode Callum and Sephy do try and rendezvous at a love hotel and during the series, it’s stated they were sleeping together. It’s better than The Twilight Saga‘s handling of sex where Edward and Bella avoided having intercourse before having a clingy moment of mating.
A trope of YA dystopias is teenage protagonists being the ones who liberate their worlds. Katniss because a symbol for the rebellion, Tris Prior was mentally and genetically different, and the Maze Runners were immune to the Flare virus. The characters in Noughts + Crosses attempts at changing the system were more realistic. Sephy considers going to university and become a politician, like her father, Callum wanted to become a symbol for change, and Callum’s brother, Jude (Josh Dylan) looked to join a terrorist group. They were small parts of a big machine.
A feature of Noughts + Crosses was the ideology of various people and factions. Both communities have people with differing views. Callum believed in changing the symbol by being an example whilst Jack Dorn (Shaun Dingwell) lead a terrorist movement. They were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, or if you prefer a comic book reference: Charles Xavier and Magneto. Within the government, the Prime Minister (Rakie Ayola) was a moderate who aimed to give the Noughts more rights, and Kamal was the opposite because he wanted to bring in increase segregation.
Noughts + Crosses did attract a recognizable cast for a British audience. There was Helen Baxendale (Friends, Cold Feet), Paterson Joseph (Peep Show), Ian Hart (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Last Kingdom) and Shaun Dingwell (Doctor Who) present. They are all solid actors and Dingwell impressed as a villain because he has an end justifies the means approach. The young actors also impressed in their roles. Rowan, Baduza, and Dylan are rising stars in the UK and South Africa. Rowan and Baduza had to give strong performances since they were the leads. Rowan had a great ability to express emotion with like his little glances and facial expressions.
Noughts + Crosses excels because of its social themes and commentary about race and discrimination. It’s a good experience for anyone interested in politics and sociology. And the series successes as a romance story.