Although the world has progressed in more ways than one when it comes to HIV/AIDS, it’s still a subject that should be handled with care, especially when dealing with the era when it was relatively unknown. It’s a Sin manages to do this with bucket-loads of panache.
Which, seeing as it’s from the pen of Russell T Davies, comes as no surprise. Like much of his work, it’s semi-autobiographical, drawing on personal experiences.
The story centres around five friends – Ritchie, Roscoe, Jill, Colin and Ash – whose lives converge in the heart of the London gay scene in 1981. With the exception of Years and Years singer Olly Alexander, who plays Ritchie, it’s a little-known cast, but with all five giving big performances. Supporting them are some seasoned pros, including Neil Patrick Harris, Keeley Hawes and an inspired Stephen Fry.
It benefits from being a very compact affair: a miniseries of five episodes, set between 1981 and 1991. Some might argue that things move too quickly, as each episode is set 2-3 years apart, but it’s still a seamless piece of storytelling even if this is the case. The work behind the scenes also shines through. Thumping bars and clubs sit beside serene coastal backdrops, with superbly edited montages punctuating the sets and scenery. There’s nostalgia, but it’s never dripping in it, and the 80s references are kept to a minimum, so just about any kind of audience can relate. The soundtrack almost couldn’t fail to be awesome, but the various songs from the hit parade are thoughtfully placed and not overused.
We also have that rare thing: a new TV drama that’s as educational as it is entertaining. Some may find parts of it upsetting, but that’s necessary to illustrate how things really were back in the day, in terms of how horrific the virus was, as well as attitudes towards those inflicted by it. This unflinching portrayal of being young and gay in the 80s, with a dark spectre starting to cast its shadow over such a colourful, hedonistic scene, tells us more than the countless documentaries ever could.
It would be remiss not to mention the parallels with the current climate. Interestingly, this aspect puts to bed the notion that fake news and conspiracy theories are modern phenomena – they were doing the rounds long before social media was even a glint in the eye.
It’s a Sin encapsulates perfectly how an innocent time suddenly took a more sinister turn, whilst maintaining its charm, bravery and audacity throughout. Currently enjoying its run on Channel 4, with all episodes available on All 4, it’s due to be unleashed by HBO Max next month, with the potential to be Davies’s finest moment across the Atlantic.
We are looking for initial adopters / testers of our site's new functionality and tools.
If you are a writer or entertainment enthusiast and early access as a tester interests you, visit our join page to get in touch.