Noughts + Crosses is set in the present day, but if our history had run a wildly different course. Sam Brooks brings you up to speed on what you need to know before you dive into the show.
First things first, what is Noughts + Crosses?
Noughts + Crosses is a BBC series adapted from a series of young adult novels by British author Malorie Blackman, with the first in the series being published in 2001. It’s a wildly popular series, often taught in schools, and has already been adapted into plays and radio dramas.
So what happened in the world of Noughts + Crosses that makes it different from ours?
Well, in the world of Noughts + Crosses, the European colonisation that we’re all bleakly familiar with never happened.
What happened is that several nations in West Africa combined to form the ‘Aprican Empire’, and then went on to colonise Europe. Following this, there was a conflict known as the Great World War, which I’m assuming is great in size not great because everybody loved it. Europe was then split into different African factions, with the European mainland under control of the Malian Empire and the Moors. Albion (what we know as the UK and Ireland) and parts of Scandinavia are under what is still known as the Aprican Empire.
Russia is still fighting with colonisers, showing that even in alternative history fiction, you still can’t beat Russia in a land war. The Ottoman Empire also exists, controlling the bulk of East Asia.
That is different!
Right? That’s all background, though. The show focuses largely on one country: Albion.
While Albion appears to be its own colony with its own prime minister and government, it’s still accountable to the continental Aprican Empire. The show takes place in 21st century Albion. By the time the series starts, slavery’s been abolished for some time, but segregation keeps the Crosses (dark-skinned people) as the upper class and the Noughts (lighter-skinned people) as the lower class.
The world, technologically, is pretty much the same as ours. There’s still the same kind of jobs and the government is broadly the same. The one big change is that there are nearly no laws to prevent discrimination or prejudice.
So this leads to the Crosses continuing to hold the power – more wealth, better jobs, more access to education, and the Noughts with nearly no power, often performing manual labour or literally being servants to the Crosses.
That sounds a little bit like our world, but backwards.
Yup! It’s allegory. Makes you think, huh?
Okay, that’s the world. So what’s the actual story about?
Noughts + Crosses follows the romance between Sephy, a Cross, and Callum, a Nought.
Sephy (full name Persephone, because she’s classy) is the daughter of a wealthy politician, while Callum is one of the few Noughts allowed at Heathcroft, a school for Crosses. The pair used to play together when Callum’s mum was a nanny for Sephy, but their friendship ever since then has been a secret. Their relationship, and its growth, is the main focus of the show, along with the political struggles between the two parts of society.
Who’s making this?
It comes direct from the BBC and the most high profile writer involved is Toby Whitehouse, who previously created Being Human, a show about supernatural creatures living in a flat together which ran for five seasons. The other writers are relative newcomers: Lydia Adetunji, Rachel De-Lahay, and Nathaniel Price. Julian Holmes, who helmed episodes of shows such as Outlander, Suits and Daredevil, and Koby Adom split directing duties between them.
In front of the camera, you might recognise Jack Rowan, who plays Callum, from Peaky Blinders, and Masali Baduza, who plays Sephy, from South African crime thriller Trackers. Also, Stormzy has a role as the editor of a newspaper (“Shut up!”)
I’m in. Where can I watch this?
The entire season, eight episodes all up, drops on TVNZ on Demand today. You can watch it right here.
This content was created in paid partnership with TVNZ. Learn more about our partnerships here.