Noughts + Crosses (BBC, 2020), adapted by Julian Holmes, Koby Adom, Lydia Adetunji, and Nathaniel Price
Spoilers: I watched the entire series on iPlayer, rather than as the episodes aired on TV, so there will be spoilers in this review for episodes that may not have aired yet.
Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses was one of my favourite books as a teenager. I had enjoyed some of Blackman’s children’s fiction when I was younger, but reading the Young Adult Noughts & Crosses series was a completely different experience and I was entirely absorbed by Callum, Sephy, and Callie Rose’s story. When I heard that there was going to be a TV adaptation, I was really excited to see this world brought to life on screen and, although the series is different from my expectations, I was definitely not disappointed. I really enjoyed this series and the way in which the original Noughts & Crosses novel was adapted for a modern audience.
Noughts + Crosses depicts an alternate reality in which Africa colonised Europe instead of the other way around, with the present society favouring those of African descent, known as Crosses, over those of European descent, known as Noughts. The primary narrative follows Sephy, a Cross and the wealthy daughter of the Home Secretary, and Callum, a Nought whose mother works for Sephy’s family, as they rekindle their friendship after several years of separation and fall in love. However, the world around them is filled with a growing tension, sparked by the death of Callum’s friend Danny at the hands of the police, and Callum and Sephy soon find themselves on opposite sides and in serious danger.
Since the original novel is written exclusively through Callum and Sephy’s eyes, in first person narration, adapting the source material into a television series actually allows for much greater insight into the world outside the main love story. This was definitely where the series really shined, from the sets, to the costumes, to the history, to the political insights we get not only into the Cross government but also the Liberation Militia. The series made its medium a real strength and this made not only for a great adaptation, but a great stand-alone television series with writing, directing, sets, costumes, and music all working together to pull the viewer’s imagination into the world of Albion. Another result of this expanded world was that it enabled the series to explore consequences of racism that are still a lived reality for many in our world today; from police brutality, to names being mispronounced, Noughts + Crosses tackled really important and relevant issues without ever detracting from the overall narrative.
However, there were some elements from the original novel that were lost in the process of adapting the source material into a television series. One of the most glaring character omissions for me was Lynette, Callum’s sister in the novel. Her story in the novel is short and tragic, yes, but she was a fascinating character and I missed seeing the relationship between her and Callum. However, it was the changes made to Callum and Sephy’s story that I was most confused about. Whilst I can understand the need to have Sephy and Callum be older than they are at the start of the novel from the start of the series, I was left unsure as to why they had not seen each other for many years and thus were only now seeing each other as adults. The fact that they had not been continuing a secret friendship whilst their families had grown apart, as they do in the novel, left the early part of their romance feeling rushed with little to explain just how quickly they decide to give up everything for each other. I was also very surprised to see that the series gave Callum and Sephy a happy ending, rather than the tragic ending of the novel. Given the darkness of the series I can see why there would be an impulse to inject some hope for the couple at the end, but it also felt a little too neatly tied up.
I really enjoyed this series and the way that it adapted the source material into a modern setting. I had high expectations for it and, although there are some elements I missed from the original novel, the overall quality of the series was so good that it did not change my opinion of how well this worked as a television series. I thought the world-building was incredibly strong and the way in which the alternate reality was used to highlight important real-world issues was very well-done. Given how the series ends, if there is a second series it seems unlikely that it will follow the novel series (a path which seems to be a trend in recent adaptations and, in my opinion, means that subsequent series can no longer be classed or reviewed as adaptations) but I am interested to see where Callum and Sephy’s story goes if they do make more episodes. This is definitely a series I would recommend.