Noughts + Crosses: segregation dystopia with a Shakespearean twist

This article contains spoilers. You have been warned!

It’s been nearly twenty years since Malorie Blackman wrote Noughts & Crosses, a dystopian novel taking place in an alternative timeline. In that timeline, African people had colonised the European countries and had made Europeans their slaves. Despite the government abolishing the enslavement of European people, racism still divides society. Black people still degrade them and cruelly call them ‘Blankers’ or ‘Noughts’, while the white people call them ‘Crosses’. Since 2001, it has spawned sequels, with its recent book, Crossfire, released in 2019.

After years of screen adaptation rumours spiralling across the internet, BBC One finally released a TV adaptation in March. It currently covers the narrative of the first book in the series. This show is a breath of fresh air from the typical dystopian shows or movies. Here’s my reasons why you should watch this show.

The story centres around Sephy Hadley and Callum McGregor, a Cross and a Nought respectively. After Callum’s mother loses her housemaid role at the Hadley’s mansion, Callum and Sephy meet in secret, unbeknownst to both families. As the story progresses, their childhood friendship soon blossoms into love. Due to the conflict within Albion’s violent and racist society, their secret romance inevitably jeopardises their lives.

With its focus on taboo relationships, lying and racial segregation, the show’s storyline is complex and thought-provoking, teaching viewers the consequences of long-term racism and class conflict

The series’ premise diverts from the original storyline. Instead of attending an elite academy filled with Crosses, Callum becomes one of the first Nought cadets at Mercy Point. Instead of a school, Callum is now thrust into a warzone between Noughts and Crosses, making the story grittier and more realistic. The series does not follow the book’s bildungsroman storyline, instead focusing on Sephy and Callum as adults. This is a refreshing change from the original storyline, allowing the writers to experiment with other underlying themes such as unemployment and workplace racism. Other changes occur in the series’ storyline: Meggie McGregor (Helen Baxendale) loses her job after discovering Sephy’s mother’s alcohol addiction, whereas in the book series she loses it before the events of the first novel. Although critics have nicknamed this series the ‘dystopian Romeo and Juliet’, I believe its focus on discrimination, conflict and complex characters makes this series a Shakespearean tragedy. Its story sticks out from the typical young adult movies and shows, like The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. With its focus on taboo relationships, lying and racial segregation, the show’s storyline is complex and thought-provoking, teaching viewers the consequences of long-term racism and class conflict.

Another reason to watch this show is the acting. The ensemble’s compelling performances made me root for the heroes and despise the villains, as any good thriller should. Jack Rowan and Masali Baduza’s onscreen chemistry as the two main characters made me root for them and wish that they’d escape the social conflict between the Noughts and the Crosses.

Filming for the series took place in South Africa, a beautiful, multicultural country. Albion’s setting gives the story a sense of verisimilitude, which sets the bleak tone for the story. The set establishes the sense of segregation between the two races; the Noughts live in shabby apartment complexes, whereas the Crosses live in colourful, luxurious houses. London’s majestic Afrofuturistic architecture would give Divergent’s set design a run for its money.

With its imaginative worldbuilding, engaging storyline and compelling characters, Noughts + Crosses should be on everyone’s watch list. If you liked The Hunger Games and the dystopian genre, then this show is up your street. The BBC has announced that Noughts + Crosses has been renewed for a second season and will be released next year. Hopefully, the next season will tie all the loose ends.

You can watch all six episodes of Noughts + Crosses now on BBC iPlayer.

Featured Image: BBC

About Charlotte Maguire

Charlotte is a student, currently studying English Literature at the University of Portsmouth.

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