Noughts + Crosses spoilers, including the ending of the BBC series, follow.
For many of us, Malorie Blackman's novel Noughts + Crosses (and the remainder of the literary series that followed) was the very first experience of being so hooked on the pages of a book that you could not put it down. Whether hiding under duvet covers by torchlight, or walking to school still pressing it up against our noses (don't try this at home), this story of intense young love, desperate to keep its flame burning in a world hell bent on extinguishing it, was captivating.
The BBC released its highly-anticipated TV adaptation at the start of March, also making it available to binge through to the end on iPlayer (for those that didn't want to wait for each weekly helping on BBC One).
It was made crystal clear from the get-go that a number of changes were made to the storyline in order to mould the novel for television audiences – something that isn't uncommon and that, in this instance, had the complete backing and direct involvement from the author herself.
At the show's launch, Blackman said that the BBC adaptation was "very true to the spirit and the soul of the book", even if specific plot points were not necessarily presented the same way. This is something we wholeheartedly agree with; Noughts + Crosses brought its whole world to life with top tier casting, sharp writing and exquisite attention to even the smallest of details.
From the fashion and beauty influences, to the music, down to that widely-praised plaster scene, Blackman's alternative look at the world, in which Sephy Hadley (a black Cross from the ruling class) and Callum McGregor's (a white Nought from the underclass) love story is set, was completely immersive.
Where we think the show let itself down a little was the way in which it left its story at the end of Noughts + Crosses first series. We'll note at this point that there's been no confirmation as to whether the BBC will renew it for future seasons – but with plenty of source material still left to explore, there certainly seems to be scope for it.
Left on something of a cliffhanger, the on-screen version saw Callum and Sephy managing to escape all of the forces that were working to keep them apart – from Sephy's ignorant and racist Cross father, to the underground Nought terror organisation Liberation Militia who were fighting against the oppressive system using violent means. What's more, Sephy discovered that she was pregnant with Callum's child, so they were presumably leaving to raise their baby together while on the run.
For fans of the book, published in 2001, this was a much less weighty way to round things off. Callum was involved in Sephy's kidnapping, so far so similar, but sadly he was not able to gain redemption and run away with his true love. Instead, he was arrested for his actions and sentenced to death by hanging.
While behind bars and waiting for this punishment to be carried out, Sephy's father went to visit him and attempted to give him an awful ultimatum: persuade Sephy to abort his child and avoid being hung, or die. Both Callum and Sephy decided to save their baby – not only would their child be an ongoing symbol of their love, but also a beacon of hope for the future and a symbol of what a more integrated and equal society could look like.
In the final moments of the book, Callum was executed while Sephy called out professing her love for him. He chose not to wear a hood, so that he was able to see her before he was killed.
Sephy ended up having a baby girl, who she named Callie Rose McGregor in honour of her lost love and the rose garden where they used to meet in secret (this place was also not featured in the TV series).
While the show offered a more hopeful and idyllic end for our two main characters, allowing viewers the possibility for a continuation of their love story, we'd also argue that it was much less poignant.
Granted, their relationship remained illegal despite their escape and Callum made it clear that if he was ever caught he would be killed, so this alternative narrative hardly allowed them to ride off into the sunset without a care in the world. But by choosing to reshape the story into a happier ending, it wrongly paints a picture that the 'good guys' (or ones you're rooting for) always win and that love conquers all – even when entire structures and institutions are stacked against you.
During a recent interview with Digital Spy, actor Jack Rowan (who plays the role of Callum McGregor) revealed that he chose not to read the book before finding out whether he had secured the part, because he didn't want to get too attached.
Although he backed the alterations that were made to the story in its adaptation, which he said were also embraced by the "creator of this world" Malorie Blackman, Jack also spoke of how impactful he found the novel's ending during his first read, particularly with the knowledge that he would be the one bringing the character to life on screen.
"You read it in a totally different light," Jack explained. "You're really connected to this guy, because you know you're going to play him. I went on that emotional roller coaster with him. And when I finished the book, I remember I was in the car with my grandparents... and I just started crying."
"It's so heart-wrenching [the ending], because I've read this character in a very different way than perhaps another person would just because I'm actually playing him. I was so excited to play him, beyond excited."
Even as simple fans of the story, readers of Noughts + Crosses likely have their own memories of how that ending emotionally impacted them and left its mark. This humble writer sure does.
In a Q&A with readers back in 2016, when asked why she chose to end the book the way she did, Malorie Blackman said: "Because it had no other ending. It upset me to write it, and I know from the letters, comments and emails I've received that the ending upset a number of people to read, but I don't think it could've happened any other way. And I know that a vast majority of the people who've read Noughts and Crosses agree with me."
While we'll take any shimmer of hope that we can at the moment, we'd have preferred if the TV adaptation had stayed truer to its original, more affecting message.
Even if we're left heartbroken for Sephy and Callum.
Noughts + Crosses airs on BBC One, and the full series is also available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
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