Photo by Russell T Davies
In the spate of bold TV shows that have arrived recently, none could be more aptly described than It’s a Sin, the newest series created from the pen of legendary writer of the small screen Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Years and Years).The drama has become a record-breaking hit for All4, attracting 6.5 million viewers in the first 2 weeks which makes it their most binged series to date. It’s glorious, fun and heartbreakingly elegiac – following a group of 18-year-old friends in 1980s Britain as they explore their sexuality and freedom. However, a deadly disease looms in the shape of AIDs – increasing anxieties around mortality, including for the many whose lives were claimed by it. This is a deeply personal drama for Davies, lasting a decade to complete and admits is partly autobiographical. Being a teenager himself 40 years ago at the time of the outbreak, in a similar fashion to his previous work he injects dark humour and tragedy, reflecting on a period that defined his youth. You may also be thinking about the insane timing of its release in 2021, and the eerily resonant subject matter. Although this was not intentional due to filming finishing in January last year, the characters’ journeys can be paralleled with our recent experiences today.
The series opens in September 1981, when vivacious Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander of Years & Years fame) moves from his quiet life in the Isle of Wight to study in London. But this is a rite of passage for him in more ways than one, as a gay man whose life dream is to become an actor. After meeting new friends Jill (Lydia West) and Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) he finally finds his crowd, who encourage him to unashamedly be himself. As their paths cross with extravagant Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and sweet valley boy Colin (Callum Scott Howells), they form the Pink Palace, the Soho flat where they all reside. However, life becomes all too precious when news of a mysterious disease from America arrives, and gay men begin to die quietly. In a world of increasing misinformation, they will all have to fight for survival to discover the truth that is hidden from them. Across the five episodes, you will undoubtedly laugh and cry as the friends’ lives are irrevocably changed by the epidemic, but their determination endures.
Aside from its coincidental release, the series has been met with controversy over the portrayal of gay characters by gay actors. This was a deliberate decision by Davies to pay tribute to the many lives lost and ensure an authentic representation within the drama. Considering it is LGBT+ History month this February it seems natural that we celebrate and respect how far we have come in breaking the stigma of the shadow of AIDS, as a crisis that defined a generation. Despite the controversy, this drama has every single merit, from the haunting soundtrack to the ensemble cast featuring the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry. Alongside the young actors at the heart of the drama, however, Keeley Hawes delivers a scene-stealing performance as Ritchie’s mum Valerie, making the final episode alone well worth watching. Ultimately, Davies’ choice to cast the real Jill that he knew as the character’s mum in the show only makes the story’s poignant message to cherish life more beautiful, in what is surely one of the most memorable dramas of recent years.
It’s a Sin is available to stream in its entirety on All4 now.