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Love isn’t black and white

Love isn’t black and white

The stars of BBC One’s Noughts + Crosses, Jack Rowan and Josh Dylan, discuss bringing Malorie Blackman’s iconic novel to life

An acclaimed book from the “nought”-ies receives the television adaptation fans have been waiting for…

By Laura Rutkowski, Staff Writer

Ever since Malorie Blackman’s award-winning young adult book Noughts & Crosses was released in 2001, there has been high demand for it to be developed for the screen. The new BBC One show covers the majority of the first book in Blackman’s five-book series about a dystopian society that’s segregated into Noughts and Crosses.


Here, the Aprican Empire invaded Europe 700 years ago, stretching to Albion (or Great Britain) where the story takes place in an alternative present. Noughts are white members of the lower class and were previously slaves to Crosses – black members of the ruling class. Relationships between the two are forbidden.

While the book covers the childhood friendship between main characters Sephy Hadley (newcomer Masali Baduza) and Callum McGregor (Jack Rowan, Peaky Blinders), we meet them in their teens as they embark on a passionate, brave – and illicit – love affair.


Sephy is a Cross and her father is the powerful Home Secretary Kamal Hadley (Paterson Joseph, Peep Show). Callum, meanwhile, has signed up for the prestigious Mercy Point Officer Training Academy, which is accepting Noughts for the first time. That puts him in conflict with his hot-headed brother Jude (Josh Dylan, The End Of The F***ing World), who has joined the Liberation Militia, a violent organisation that opposes Cross supremacy.


The thought-provoking six-parter also stars Bonnie Mbuli (Wallander), Helen Baxendale (Friends), Ian Hart (The Last Kingdom), Shaun Dingwall (Goodbye Christopher Robin) and… Stormzy! Jay-Z’s Roc Nation also provide the series’ soundtrack.


We sat down with Jack Rowan and Josh Dylan to find out what it was like bringing Callum and Jude from the page to the screen...

Were you familiar with the books?

Jack Rowan: I only read it after I got the part. You get so emotionally invested. Reading the book was a pivotal part in getting excited. Malorie’s been involved constantly. We needed her blessing – and thankfully we got it. 


Josh Dylan: When I read these books, and I’m not just saying this, I remember Jude the clearest. For some reason I pictured him having that David Beckham late 90s curtains hair – what a look. Obviously, they didn’t let me have that in the show.


Here’s Jude not rocking the curtains hair. 

I was really happy when I watched the first episode, because it hadn’t lost the spirit of the books. Malorie’s story is gripping and it’s a massive story to tell. It’s sensitive, it’s complicated and there’s a huge world to set up and a lot of characters.

What was it like filming in South Africa?

JR: A lot of our crew were South African. Some of them might not have read our script or read the book, but they were like, “Is this show set in South Africa?” They almost connected with it, so it added to the intensity of the show, where their history is quite close to what we’re imitating.


JD: I had a great time, but I found it tricky. I won’t lie about that. There was this tension in the air that permeated everything. We were filming and a guy in the crew was like, “This used to be one of the apartheid HQ buildings”, where all sorts of bad things happened. That was very disturbing.

How did it feel to face discrimination as your characters?

JR: I’d never experienced, and I still haven’t fully experienced, what it’s like to feel isolated and there’s nothing you can do about it; some people go through that every day. I wouldn’t have had that experience probably ever if I hadn’t gotten this part. I remember writing down: “Never forget these days,” because it helped going forward as that character.


Can Callum and Sephy’s love trump all?

JD: Jude’s in a dark place and is put through some real sh*t and that’s something in my life I haven’t had a great deal of experience with. Did I feel like I did some reading and got to grips with what it’s like to be on the receiving end of years and years of racism and oppression? Absolutely not. How do you do that? It’s impossible, but that’s what’s so interesting about Malorie’s book and this series – it starts the conversation in an innovative way.


What was it like working with Stormzy?

Stormzy plays Kolawale, Editor-in-Chief of the Ohene Standard.

JR: A big part of Stormzy’s involvement also involves Callum. He’s in the final episode and the stakes are really high. He embraced the artform and he was excitable. He’s a great guy – really respectful, really kind. 

JD: He’s stupidly talented, annoyingly so. He’s passionate and he’s in it for the right reasons. He was lovely and it means a lot to him. He loves Malorie and the books.


When is BBC One’s Noughts + Crosses on TV?

Noughts + Crosses airs on BBC One HD (CH 101/108) on Thursdays at 9pm. All episodes are available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer. 


The six-part series will subsequently air every week until Thursday 9th April. 

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Interviews: Any opinions expressed in interviews are those of the interview subject and not those of Virgin Media.

Image credits: Noughts + Crosses © Mammoth Screen –  Photographer: Ilze Kitshoff