Views Editor Hannah Patterson shares her thoughts on the BBC adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses.
When it was announced that the BBC were adapting Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, I was a little nervous. A book that touched so many readers growing up was an ambitious thing to take on – would the BBC be able to capture the world that Blackman pulls us into in her series and do it justice? I have to say, for me, the answer is absolutely yes. From the opening scene, I found this series to be an absolutely enthralling one.
The world we are introduced to in episode one is known as “Albion”, modelled on present day London. The ruling class, the darker-skinned “Crosses” have been in power since they invaded Europe some 700 years ago, and while the lighter-skinned “Noughts” are no longer officially slaves, they are still treated as them in most senses. This is familiar territory for anyone who has read Blackman’s books, but while she paints an incredible picture, the work done by the BBC’s creative team may have surpassed even the author’s expectations. Rebuilding modern day London without the white-washing and infusing African influences while highlighting a race war throws you into the world of Noughts + Crosses so completely. Yet, what I love about the series isn’t the differences between our world and this, but the similarities. The government structure is the same, we see people using smartphones, the school structure is the same – but flipped in a way that causes you to confront some very real and very deep-seated prejudices.
Another decision that I wholeheartedly agree with was the decision to age the main characters, Sephy and Callum, up a few years. In the book we meet Sephy and Callum at 13 and 15 respectively, which works well for showing a childhood naivety from both. However, on screen I doubt this would have played well – Sephy would have seemed ignorant and uninformed and wouldn’t have held the viewers’ interest, while Callum’s want to change the world would have been easily scoffable. In the show we meet them around 19, which gives a gravitas both to their feelings about each other and the decisions they make throughout the series – they are both more accountable and I think the show benefits from it. Portrayed by Jack Rowan and Masali Budaza, Callum and Sephy have a difficult love story, and although at times it can feel a little rushed in ways that the book didn’t, the tension between Rowan and Budaza carries it through well, with both giving absolutely stellar performances. Rowan, in particular, shines in episode four, facilitated by a wonderful performance from Josh Dylan as Jude McGregor.
On the topic of the supporting cast, the BBC have again outdone themselves. Paterson Joseph as Kamal Hadley is in equal parts charming and terrifying, embodying a politician so slippery and power-hungry I’m surprised the Conservative cabinet haven’t asked him to come on board. And Helen Baxendale (Emily from Friends, as it took me four episodes to work out) is wonderful as Meggie McGregor, a mother who believes in good above all and is a perfect moral compass in a show where it’s easy to become confused.
But the real stars of the show aren’t the actors, as compelling a performance as they may give. What makes Noughts + Crosses special is the job done by the costume teams, the hair and makeup artists, the set designers and the musicians who collaborated. Whether or not you agree with the changes in plot, or the vastly different ending the TV show decided to go with (not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched yet, but I think it will divide book readers pretty extensively), the world that the creative team have managed to produce is something incredibly special.