Malorie Blackman’s critically acclaimed novel series, Noughts & Crosses, has finally been adapted for TV by the BBC. It surprised me to learn that even though the first book was published in 2001 (before I was born!), this was the first successful attempt to adapt it.
The first episode of any series has the tough job of introducing us to the main characters and the relationships between them while creating a plot that will keep viewers gripped.
Noughts + Crosses had the added task of introducing viewers to an alternate reality. The show is set in a world where Africa colonised Europe and made Europeans their slaves. In the time the show is set in, slavery has been abolished for a while, but segregation is still in full force. It is less of a representation of modern-day Britain (but with the races with opposite positions of power) and more like apartheid in South Africa.
Episode 1 opens with the Noughts (lighter-skinned people) at a car rally. The police arrive to break up the party and they become quite aggressive towards a few of the Noughts. One of the Noughts, Jude McGregor (Josh Dylan), refuses to go against the police van.
Jude’s friend tries to protect him and ends up being hit by the police officer’s baton — something that happens to people of colour much too often. It was quite shocking to see this happen so graphically on screen without a true cause.
Then we are introduced to Sephy (Masali Baduza), the daughter of the Home Secretary. She seems to believe everything that is being fed to her by her father, Kamal (Patterson Joseph) and the Cross controlled news, including the claim that it was the Nought that instigated the violence. It is her mother’s birthday party that opens her eyes and changes her perspective of Noughts.
Callum McGregor (Jack Rowan), who witnessed the police brutality, is helping his mother (who works for Sephy’s family) by being a waiter. He resents the Home Secretary and has been shaken by the previous night’s event.
When Callum sees Sephy from across the garden, it definitely presents connotations of Romeo and Juliet. Malorie Blackman has even said in an interview with the Radio Times, “My inspiration was always Romeo and Juliet, just set in a very different world.”
Later on, at the party, Sephy and Callum meet. It is revealed that they were close as children because Callum’s mother Maggie (Helen Baxendale) used to bring him to work with her. From meeting Callum again, viewers can see the fog starting to lift from Sephy’s eyes. She begins to ponder whether all Noughts are as bad as she has been led to believe. I hope that many white viewers also questioned the instutionalised racism that is ever-present in the world.
While Sephy is undergoing a change in her worldview, Jude is fighting for justice for his friend who is in a coma in the hospital. This leads him to a radical activist for Nought rights, Jack Dorn (Shaun Dingwall). Callum is going through the final stages of admission to Mercy Point (a Cross Military School).
There are certainly elements of Noughts + Crosses that are still relevant in today’s society. For example, the plasters are only dark brown because that is the skin colour of the ruling race in Albion. Although the concept may be unfamiliar and disorienting for some, it is the love story that will keep you coming back each week.
Overall I thought this episode was a great introduction to this world and its characters. There’s a sharp cliffhanger ending that has left me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next episode. I loved that there were so many black actors, showing that diversity can be done and should be done for other TV shows.
Noughts + Crosses will air every Thursday at 9 p.m. on BBC One.
Featured image via @jackorowan