How faithful is BBC One’s Noughts + Crosses to the Malorie Blackman novel?

Several changes have been made to the story during its journey to television

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BBC One’s Noughts + Crosses brings the world of Malorie Blackman’s young adult novels to the screen in vivid detail, but it isn’t a wholly faithful adaptation of her original story.

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The team behind the television series have made some significant changes, most notably ageing up the lead characters to completely bypass their early years.

The Noughts and Crosses novel picks up with Callum as he enrols in Sephy’s prestigious ‘cross’ school and worries about the prejudice he might face there.

Unfortunately, despite Sephy’s best efforts, the experience is just as difficult as he feared it would be, with the school’s racial discrimination proving to be a deep-rooted issue.

One pivotal scene sees a group of ‘cross’ students protesting that they don’t want ‘noughts’ in their school.

While attempting to defuse the situation, Sephy blurts out the word “blankers,” an offensive racial slur towards noughts, which upsets Callum.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 25/02/2020 - Programme Name: Noughts & Crosses - TX: 05/03/2020 - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Sephy Hadley (MASALI BADUZA), Callum McGregor (JACK ROWAN) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Ilze Kitshoff
Jack Rowan and Masali Baduza in Noughts and Crosses

At the beginning of the television adaptation, Callum and Sephy have already left school, but the writers have found ways to include both this moment and Callum’s feelings of isolation within an institution.

In the first episode, Sephy uses the derogatory term when she and Callum are harassed by a gang of noughts while walking home together at night, prompting the same shocked reaction.

When Callum decides to join the Aprican military, a subplot which does not feature in the book whatsoever, he experiences a similar kind of prejudice to that which he would have suffered at school.

In this sense, while the context is different, the core themes of the story have remained intact during the transition from page to screen, as star Jack Rowan (Peaky Blinders) told RadioTimes.com.

“When you read a book you have so much room to manoeuvre, whereas in a TV series we only have a certain amount of time, so of course there are certain things that have been changed,” he said. “But it does stay faithful to the journey that these characters go on in both their worlds.”

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 25/02/2020 - Programme Name: Noughts & Crosses - TX: 05/03/2020 - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Jude McGregor (JOSH DYLAN), Jack Dorn (SHAUN DINGWALL) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Ilze Kitshoff
Josh Dylan in Noughts and Crosses

Producer Preethi Mavahalli outlined that another reason for ageing up Callum and Sephy was to avoid their romance seeming like “puppy love.”

“We had a lot of discussion with Malorie early in the development process and we felt that if you age up the characters they are forced into proper young adult choices.

“When they get older, they’re really having to choose where their loyalties lie. They have to make choices between their family and their lover and it felt like the stakes were higher and it really was able to push the premise further.”

Perhaps the biggest omission from Noughts and Crosses is the character of Lynette, Callum and Jude’s mentally ill sister who had a major role in the novel but is neither seen nor referenced in the first episode of the series.

In the book, it is revealed that her illness took hold after an attack on she and her cross boyfriend, which left her with brain damage and the belief that she was a cross herself.

Lynette’s delusion caused resentment from her hot-headed brother Jude, which is one reason for her suicide about halfway through the story.

It seems likely that this character and her hard-hitting arc was cut from the series as there wouldn’t have been time to tell it properly in just six episodes.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 25/02/2020 - Programme Name: Noughts & Crosses - TX: 05/03/2020 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: British musician Stormzy has joined the cast of the much anticipated BBC One drama Noughts + Crosses, a Mammoth Screen adaptation of Malorie Blackman's award-winning young adult book series currently being filmed in South Africa. Stormzy will play newspaper editor Kolawale, a character created for the TV series, and admits:
Stormzy in Noughts and Crosses

The Noughts and Crosses TV series also made headlines with the announcement that superstar rapper and musician Stormzy would be joining the cast.

He plays a newspaper editor called Kolawale in the final episode of the series, an original character who doesn’t appear in the novels and whose involvement in Callum and Sephy’s story is a tightly-guarded secret.

It should be noted that author Malorie Blackman has had an influential role in the production of this series and fans can rest assured she is pleased with it, changes and all.

“We’ve had her blessing on everything. She’s been a really vital part of this process, we’re very grateful to have her as well,” Rowan said.

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Noughts and Crosses airs on BBC One at 9pm on Thursday 5th March