BBC’s ambitious Noughts And Crosses welcomes us to Albion, a colonial outpost of The Aprican Empire. This 6×60 minute adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s YA dystopian novel is a remarkably well-observed show with intricate details building up to explosive ideas. The interesting and sadly, surprising part about this show is its setting, it transports us to a race-flipped universe altogether. Ever heard of the lighter-skinned being ruled over by the darker-skinned? Here, a white underclass, the Noughts, rubs up against the black ruling elite: the Crosses. Miscegenation is forbidden. This smart drama highlights structural racism by flipping a familiar tale of star-crossed lovers on its head.
Noughts and Crosses Plot
The series differs from the book in several respects. Callum and Jude’s sister Lynette McGregor do not feature in the series, and the ending has been changed.
Shot in South Africa resonates with the Apartheid era sense of the story, even more, it builds an extraordinary world. Yoruba is scattered in day-to-day language; the Noughts have an elite sense of physical outlook, in the way they dress and style their hair, they themselves debate on the right and wrong of the cultural appropriation. This is high-concept material, but Noughts And Crosses fleshes it out: the series worms its way into the psyche through a striking blend of imagination and execution.
The series takes place in present-day London in an alternate history where 700 years prior, several nations in (what is in our world known as) West Africa combined to form the powerful Aprican Empire and went on to colonize Europe. After a conflict was known as the Great World War, the holdover of Europe is divided between the Aprican factions. The Malian Empire and the Moors got control over mainland Europe while the Aprican empire still reigned over parts of Scandinavia, Great Britain and Ireland.
Sephy and Callum’s friendship dating back to childhood blossoms into romance but the dystopian society of which they are a part is divided by color and because of the strict race laws imposed, everyone is discriminated against due to their skin color, making them truly star-crossed lovers.
The BBC synopsis reads: “Against a background of prejudice, distrust, and powerful rebellion mounting on the streets, a passionate romance builds between Sephy and Callum which will lead them both into terrible danger“.
Noughts and Crosses Season 1 Ending
At the end of Season 1, we saw Sephy rebelling against her powerful father Kamal Hadley by refusing to go to University. She has a heartfelt conversation with her sister before leaving implying the situation is not just about her anymore. She is later seen throwing up before touching her stomach, confirming that she’s pregnant. Kamal tries to stop Sephy and Callum from leaving but after getting to know about her pregnancy lets the couple left. By the end of the episode, we see that the pair is hidden away somewhere remote and rural.
Everything About Season 2
After such an abrupt and unclear ending viewers can only expect season 2 of the show to pick up from these events. Once again, we’ll return to dystopian London where Sephy and Callum have fallen in love against the odds.
When and Where to Watch Noughts and Crosses Season 2
Noughts and Crosses season 2 kicks off on Tuesday, April 26 at 10.40 pm on BBC1 and episodes will later be available on-demand. The first season of Noughts and Crosses is currently available on-demand via iPlayer and on Peacock over in the US.
It’s worth remembering that Blackman’s book is aimed at readers aged 12 and upwards, with the protagonists – Nought Callum and Cross Sephy, or Persephone – starting out on the first day of high school. Nobody here could be accused of behaving like they’re part of a teen show, though, from the writers to the actors. The characters have been aged up by about five years, making Callum and Sephy full participants in Albion society, with all its racism – both insidious and overt.
The Guardian’s Josh Lee gave the television series four out of five stars, describing it as a “reverse-race love story that is vital viewing.” Lee praised the series for highlighting the challenges that working-class white people and people of color share in the real world through its depiction of racism in an alternate world dominated by African supremacy. It has a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.2 IMDb rating.
There’s been some half-baked criticism in the UK about the series’ racial attitudes, something efficiently batted away by Blackman (if Noughts And Crosses make you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably doing its job.)
Reverse racism and the African culture dominance
What distinguishes Noughts and Crosses from a counterfactual history series, such as The Man in the High Castle, or a historical-based fantasy, like Game of Thrones, is that it is barely fictionalized at all. This world is our world – same technology, same geography, same government – only flipped.
In this context, African cultural dominance can feel like a celebration. Aside from all the other things it is doing, this show acts as a still rare showcase for black talent, be it in the form of more roles for black actors or a soundtrack mixing contemporary African music with diverse Black British artists (currently available to listen to in full on BBC Sounds). Afrofuturism is evident here, but it’s more than just a brilliantly stylish design with political resonance.
The Africanized architecture (shot mostly in South Africa), the way black faces feature on all the advertising hoardings and news channels, but especially the way Afrocentric beauty standards are so pervasive that even white characters wear their hair in locks and braids – all this comes together to create an effect that is consistently jolting. Every scene includes a least one detail that wakes up the viewer (and keeps us “woke”) to so much racism that is otherwise absorbed, unnoticed into the texture of daily life.
Noughts and Crosses Season 2 Cast
Our perspective on this alternative world is that of Callum (Peaky Blinders’ Jack Rowan) a Nought, and Sephy (newcomer Masali Baduza), who is not only a Cross but, as the daughter of the home secretary Kamal Hadley (Paterson Joseph), a particularly privileged one. Admittedly, the Crosses do have the best roles: Joseph as Sephy’s father and Albion’s scheming Home Secretary Kamal Hedley gives his character the right shade of nuance. Bonnie Mbuli is touchingly vulnerable as his troubled wife Jasmine, and Jonathan Ajayi is also in fighting form as Callum’s love rival and uber-aggressive nemesis Lekan.
For the Noughts, Helen Baxendale plays the Hedley’s housekeeper (and Callum’s mother) Meggie, with Ian Hart as his father and Shaun Dingwall as the leader of the resistance movement the Liberation Militia. Josh Dylan portrays the role of Callum’s militant older brother, Jude McGregor. The primary casting also includes Kiké Brimah as Minerva Hadley, Sephy’s older sister and Rakie Ayola as Prime Minister, Opal Folami.
The extended supporting cast is a tight ensemble working its way through multiple, ambitiously-plotted strands.
Other recurring cast members include Jodie Tyack as Elaine Sawyer, a Nought cadet at Mercy Point, Nathaniel Ramabulana as Sergeant Major Bolade Oluade, Callum’s commanding officer at Mercy Point, Nicholas Beveney as Police Deputy Commissioner Folu Abiola, Stormzy as Kolawale, Editor-in-Chief of the Ohene Standard (SPOILER ALERT: Viewers waiting to see grime artist Stormzy in his first dramatic role will need to wait until the final episode when the LM raids an establishment newspaper which his character edits)., Luke Bailey as Yaro Baloyi-Hadley, Kamal’s illegitimate mixed-race son, Eunice Olumide as Omotola Aguda, a news anchor for CAN, Ore Oduba as Obiora Akintola, a news anchor for CAN.