NOTE: There will be discussion of the series from beginning to end, including spoilers
At times, a television series will come around so powerful that you don’t think you’ll ever forget the impact it had on you. It’s a rare occurrence; there’s good TV and great TV, but life-changing TV? Not so common.
Such is the case with Russell T Davies’ latest miniseries, It’s A Sin. Believe the hype. Feed into the momentum. Watch it (with a box of tissues close at hand). It’s not just a TV show. It’s an event.
With February marking LGBT History Month, there’s no better time to delve into the fictional, but very much based in reality, tales of a bunch of LGBTQ+ friends and allies living in London, between the years 1981 and 1991.
Institutionalised homophobia and disgust at anybody who dared to be their true, unique selves was at an all-time high under the reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; a woman who decided that any literature which included homosexual connotations or relationships should be removed from the world of education.
So, when the HIV and AIDS crisis began to rear its ugly head, it was instantly dismissed as a disease that would only affect homosexual men. Even in the years when it became clear that it could also be spread by heterosexuals, the media continued to vilify the “perverts to blame for the killer plague” (gay men, as described by The Sun newspaper), despite the then-clear facts.
Have we grown as a nation? Absolutely. Is the media still attempting to smear anything with a hint of homosexuality despite it being the year 2021? Yup. Just take a look at the “hottest sex scenes ever” headline that The Sun used when talking about Netflix original Bridgerton, and then compare it to the “shocked by explicit sex” headline they attributed to this very drama. Maybe don’t look at the comments though; you know, if you really want to believe we’re inching closer to acceptance and equality for all as a country.
I digress. It’s important to know the mood of the UK at the time in which It’s A Sin is set but, if you’re truly unaware, Davies and his incomparable cast of characters do a stellar job of conveying the differing emotions of the period. Unlike his previous drama Cucumber (also very good!), he allows the audience to take in the important details through the actions of his characters, rather than through talking directly to viewers and instructing them how to think or feel.
As fantastic as Davies’ writing is, it’s in the casting of his characters that allows this story to really shine. Lead character Ritchie is played incredibly well by Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, whilst Lydia West seems to effortlessly take to the role of his best friend Jill Baxter. Newcomer Callum Scott Howells is utterly adorable from his opening scene as the unassuming Colin, whilst Omari Douglas as Roscoe showcases some of the trauma of an unaccepting family unit with just a certain look in his eyes. Nathaniel Curtis completes the core group of five as Ash, a quiet but strong-willed friend who hopes to find the courage to turn the system on its head.
That he does, along with the rest of his group. They march for equality, paving the way for others who will stomp the same path. Despite supposedly being in the prime of their lives, they are watching as their loved ones die and the establishment turns their nose up at offering any sort of help. They demand change.
Then there’s the final, stunning punch delivered expertly by West as Jill, who tears away any confusion and lays the blame of so many dead directly at the doors of those who wanted homosexual men to remain closeted and feel shame. Own your bigotry; it is your fault that almost six-and-a-half million people have died with AIDS since the initial breakout to the modern day.
It shouldn’t have to take a drama like It’s A Sin to change opinion about the AIDS crisis but, that is where we find ourselves. Whether you’re fully-educated about the period or blissfully ignorant, watch this show. I promise it’ll stick with you long after the final credits roll.
It’s A Sin is available to watch in full now on-demand on All-4, and continues Fridays on Channel 4 if you prefer watching weekly. The series has also been picked up for broadcast in the United States on HBO Max, available from February 18th, 2021.
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Tagged in Channel 4