James Bacon Reviews “Noughts and Crosses”

Noughts and Crosses 

‘In a world divided by colour, love is never black and white’

By James Bacon: Based on the YA novel Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, this is a brilliantly conceived alternative history set in a  London which is the capital of Albion, a colonial state of Aprica. The world is very different, 700 years ago Africa colonized the European Continent and got as far as Albion. After the Great War, Europe was divided amongst the Aprican Empire, the Malian Empire and the Moors and Russia were pushed back.  History tells that after the Great War, Aprica came to Albion’s rescue and was their savior, protecting them, and so the people of Albion have been under a form of Colonialism for 700 years. In Albion the White Noughts are the suppressed majority under the heel of the Black Crosses. 

Into this incredibly beautifully-conceived London we watch on as Jude, Danny and Callum have a great time in the back streets of South London, Jude pulling donuts in a car, music loud, until the Cross Police sirens start, and the three boys encounter two cops, and soon there is an affray. The mistakes that people make, which lead to unintended consequences and the frustration of being oppressed are a thread that weaves throughout the six hour-long episodes of this wonderful drama. The Police Officers, their large hardback 4×4 in a disruptive pattern blue, are perfect, their uniforms modern, but instead of truncheons, they have Knoberries, instead of the cliché encounter we watch as these Noughts, these white boys, get thrown against the car and are shown their place, with Danny left in a coma. 

There is no justice here, there is only racial segregation and brutal oppression. 

Callum has ambition, he wants to be an Army Officer, and his Mom, Maggie is so proud of his determination to overcome prejudice and hatred.  Maggie works for Kamal Hadley, the Home Office Minister, who believes in the strong arm of the law, of ensuring that ethnic tensions are dealt with in a heavy-handed way, but his daughter Persephone, ‘Sephy’ who is studying political science is more liberal, and when she meets Callum a childhood friendship rekindles into something more, as her interest both in him and a desire to see what is going on, leads them into a romantic story, affection and love, hurt and pain, it all follows in a quick-paced fashion.

Sephy (Masali Baduza) and Callum (Jack Rowan)

This thought-provoking assessment of how a colonialist society at its peak of oppression and stability can exist so eloquently while so brutally oppressing the people, pulls few punches.  The Liberation Movement is a classic terrorist organization led by the immoral and manipulative Nought Jack Dorn who has no respect for Cross or Nought life, as long as it brings closer freedom from the yoke of tyranny. Be it civilian targets, murder, betrayal, kidnapping, these are just the tools in his fight, and into his toolbox falls Jude, Callum’s brother, only too willing to be used like a pawn or soldier. 

The story quickly becomes more complex and intertwined, with moments that make the viewer gasp, the coincidental and unintentional mixed with just brilliant storytelling, to make for a gripping and passionate televisual experience. 

It is hard to know who plays the greatest part in this story. Callum McGreggor, played by Jack Rowan, is very good, developing through the short series, and overcoming hatred and anger although not sufficiently in many ways. Paterson Joseph who plays Home Secretary Kamal Hadley is utterly brilliant, his conniving smiling beautiful English public school accent, manners and velvet charm belie how dangerous and hideous his ambitions and aspirations are. I think while many of the supporting characters are utterly brilliant the relationship between Housekeeper Meggie McGregor played by Helen Baxendale and Jass Hadley played by Bonnie Mbuli is fantastic, as their families come into more contact in a way that is not desired, familiarity breaking down servant and master barriers, and the mothers’ stories entwine into the complexity of mad violent men who have no reason. Yet it is Masali Baduza playing  Persephone “Sephy” Hadley who, for me, carries this through; she brilliantly and perfectly captures the hardest part, the privileged upper-class educated elite who pains for the plight of others, and cannot follow logic or expectations when it comes to matters of her heart. 

The moment where she calls a group of Noughts who are attacking her and Callum ‘Blankers’ the pejorative term for Noughts is just fabulous acting and a scene where everything stops perfectly, as even Callum cannot believe it. 

The complexities of Sephy’s and Callums situation, as they escape at one stage into a seedy and underground area, so they can even dance together, never ends, throughout it all they battle against so much and at times each other as their lives and relationship becomes beyond impossible. 

Sexism and misogyny play a part too, despite the Prime Minister Opal Folami (the incredible Welsh actor Rakie Ayola) desiring to ease the segregation laws and wishing to calm any unrest peacefully. This unsettles members of the patriarchy, and we see that a number of male characters believe that a woman should do as she is told, what is expected of her, so that despite all the wonderful trappings of prestige, expectations, and wealth, women are controlled by a level of bullying and subtle malice that is clear to the viewer. 

There is of course a wonderful level of hypocrisy exhibited as those in power strive to curtail others, to suppresses inter racial relationships, protect identities and maintain segregation, separation and what one might consider genetic purity. Their hypocritical behavior plays into the overall story. 

As we see Sephy and Callum fall into a proscribed relationship together, it is wonderful that love is their main motivation, and a mutual respect and learning, while this is no easy journey and indeed it is the most difficult and problematic of relationships to sustain which is then seemingly assaulted by predicament and unfortunate circumstance, some innocent, some unintended, and at times misguided. 

There is a fusion of modernity of London with African styles, art and aesthetics, colorful and brighter, and as we see the Thames, the North of the River has amazing architecture, while south of the river, has flat blocks, which while adorned with some color set the tone for this divided metropolis. 

African styles and fashion are predominant, with everyone wearing patterns, cuts and garments that reflect the Aprican influence. The stunning color and beauty of the costumes of the Cross characters, especially  Prime Minister Opal Folami’s wondrous headdresses are incredible, and worn not so much as a crown but with everyday business style. Yet there is subtlety, so the Deputy Police Commissioners hat band is a blue and white diamond pattern and under his Sam Browne belt he wears a ceremonial sash-like belt, highly colorful and striking, and even his medal ribbons call on a slightly different color palette. It all works so ably, at every stage the fusion of modernity with African heritage is perfect. 

The same can be said for the music, which is very strong and distinctive and seems to eschew any one type per se, but fuses classical, modern and African influences, to create a new and fresh tone, one where one just assumes that classical music as we know it, of course has an African heritage. 

The world is very thought-provoking and I did ponder the comparisons to Imperial occupations, colonialism, and these drove speculations, driven by the brilliance of this story and yet there are incredible moments, when one realizes that story tellers have heart, especially when Callum is sitting at the end of a motorway bridge that is leading to nowhere. 

There are uncomfortable moments, but throughout Sephy does such a wonderful job, naive yet well-meaning, determined and intelligent, caring and human, we follow her and Callum and as this very different romantic drama progresses in this fantastical London, the viewer is only left asking so much and hoping even more. As her lecturer explains that Noughts drink as that is what they do, and that despite them being cheerful you do get ‘uppity ones’ she is challenged by her own society as she questions and yet she follows her heart.  

Written by Toby Whithouse, Lydia Adetunji, Nathaniel Price and  Rachel De-Lahay
Directed by Julian Holmes and  Koby Adom, filming and production took place in South Africa.

This is the best Science Fictional TV series of 2020.

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