“Over 700 years ago, the Aprican Empire invaded Europe. Aprica colonised the continent and reached as far as Albion. Albion has been under Aprican rule ever since.”
So begins Noughts + Crosses, a controversial six-part BBC One series that has just started screening on Showmax and M-Net, with new episodes every Thursday night from 23:30.
South African Masali Baduza (Trackers) and BAFTA winner Jack Rowan (Born To Kill, Peaky Blinders) play Sephy and Callum, two star-crossed lovers in the tradition of Romeo and Juliet. Sephy is the privileged daughter of the Home Secretary, Kamal Hadley, while Callum’s mother, Meggie, is the Hadleys’ housekeeper. While Sephy and Callum grew up together, they may as well have lived in different worlds.
Shot largely in Cape Town, the series also stars Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, The Leftovers) and South African actress Bonnie Mbuli (Invictus, Wallander) as Sephy’s parents, Kamal and Jasmine, with BAFTA nominee Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet, Emily in Friends) and Tribeca winner Ian Hart (Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter) as Callum’s parents, as well as Josh Dylan (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The End of the F***ing World) as his brother Jude.
The alternate reality love story is based on the multi-award-winning 2001 novel by former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, which was included in both BBC’s list of the 100 Novels That Shaped The World and in The Guardian‘s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century. Grime superstar Stormzy, who has a cameo in the series as newspaper editor Kolawale, calls the five-book series “my favourite books of all time.”
Visionary short film director Kibwe Tavares (Jonah, Robots of Brixton, Robot & Scarecrow) executive produced the series and steered the creation of its Afrocentric world, where everything has been rethought, from the language to the architecture, from beauty norms to the colour of plasters.
In one powerful scene, Callum cuts his finger and Sephy gets him a plaster, which is too dark for his skin. For context, South Africa has only had ‘skin tone’ plasters for black people since 2015, while in the UK, Tesco has just this year released multi tone plasters – and claims to be the first supermarket there to do so.
“There are so many small moments that a lot of people wouldn’t think about, like the fact that flesh coloured plasters are not the flesh colour of anyone but white people,” says Joseph. “It is an insidious, tiny, incremental knock to you as a citizen of any country to be told what normal is in those casual ways… Working on this drama has exercised all of our minds and made us super aware of everything.”
Noughts + Crosses was the number-one show across all channels when it premiered on 5 March 2020 in Britain. The series has a 82% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Guardian hailing it as “vital viewing”, The Telegraph as a “must-see”, NME as “must-watch TV”, RadioTimes as “a series on the cusp of greatness”, and The Evening Standard as “properly incendiary.”
Watch Noughts + Crosses from 12 March 2020 on M-Net (101) at 22:00.
Watch online on Showmax from 23:00 every Thursday.