“It’s a Sin” (2021)
Written and created by: Russell T Davies
Featuring: Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West and Nathaniel Curtis
“It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin
It’s a sin
Everything I’ve ever done
Everything I ever do
Every place I’ve ever been
Everywhere I’m going to I
It’s a sin” – Pet Shop Boys – It’s a Sin
Released recently on DVD is the miniseries “It’s a Sin” (2021) written by Russell T Davies that is based around the AIDS epidemic from the early 1980s to the early 1990s based in London and is taken from some of the writers own experiences which is one of the most important aspects of this limited series. It may seem that in this enlightened era it would not be an effort for someone who rebooted the sci-fi series “Doctor Who” (1963-present) not only into something viable but into a global juggernaut as well as creating the groundbreaking “Queer as Folk”(1995-2005) but as it turned out this was a series that had to be fought for, not only that it was originally planned as eight episodes but it could only be greenlit at five episodes. Davies it has to be said is a very good writer especially at getting themes, issues and straight forward narratives across to mass audiences while instilling originality into subjects that have been seen before, he is truly talented and this comes across in “It’s a Sin”, his most personal story in a few decades.
The themes and narrative of “It’s a Sin” are not new at all, in fact there have been many AIDS era dramas written, not only that but they have been around since the epidemic themselves, some of these are “And the Band Played On” (1993), “Jeffrey” (1995), “It’s My Party” (1996), “Angels in America” (2003) and “The Normal Heart” (2014) just to name a few. What is interesting and more than unique is that this new series is set in London and is written from a certain point of view. The series also does not get mired in too much melodrama and science, in fact there is a lot of humour and the life that some of the main characters have.
The series itself follows a group of gay men who move to London in 1981. They form a friendship group but the fast developing HIV/AIDS crisis in the United Kingdom impacts their lives. Over five episodes the group are shown living through an entire decade until 1991, as they become determined to live fiercely despite the threat HIV poses to them.
As already mentioned “It’s a Sin” has been written by Russell T Davies from a very personal point of view, so what does that mean in terms of what we see on-screen? Well while the entire cast is not white the main point of view and illness related aspects are very white which for me is completely understandable because guess what, Davies is a gay white man and that is what he knows which ends up on the screen, that is the main criticism but it should not put anyone off from watching what is a very good miniseries. The other aspect of “It’s a Sin” is the director and in this case the producers were able to recruit Peter Hoar who is a very experienced director who has been operating for years and has a great eye, here he brings that eye to bear with a colourful palette as well as many different viewpoints which suits the writing down to the ground.
“It’s a Sin” has been cast extremely well with the lead being Olly Alexander who is fantastic throughout, he embraces the role and it is not difficult to imagine him in the 1980s behaving exactly like he does in the series. There are great supporting actors in the form of Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West and Nathaniel Curtis who all are fresh and young and bring this to their performances which give the series a huge amount of depth.
This is a series that is very well done and is a snapshot of how it must have been for some people in the 1980s who were dealing with the AIDS epidemic on the front lines and offers a microcosm look at a group of people that are all fascinating in one form or another. “It’s a Sin” is not perfect but the mere fact that creator Russell T Davies was able to construct a narrative from his own personal story says something not only about him but that experience of living through this time, something that must have been terrifying. This is a show like many of its genre that is able to be watched again and again and you owe it to yourself to do just that.
Episode 1: September 1981. The lives of five friends converge in a flat together in London. Roscoe runs away from home when he learns his father intends to take him back to Nigeria. Ritchie Tozer, who has not come out to his parents, pursues his dreams of being an actor with his friend Jill. Colin begins a sales apprenticeship at a Savile Row tailor, where he is befriended by Henry Coltrane. Coltrane and his partner mysteriously fall ill and die of rare cancers.
Episode 2: December 1983. Despite education outreach by AIDS activists, Ritchie remains in denial and spreads conspiracy theories and AIDS denialism. An old friend, Gregory (known as Gloria), hides after falling ill and asks Jill to secretly buy his groceries. Jill struggles as she worries the illness is infectious and starts to over clean and sanitise. Gloria’s illness gets worse and his hostile family brings him back to Glasgow, where he soon dies. Colin is sexually harassed by his boss on a trip to New York and is subsequently fired after his boss sees publications on AIDS that Jill had requested and fears he could have the disease. Jill tries but fails to get the men to realise the risks of casual sex.
Episode 3: March 1986. Colin finds work in a print shop and volunteers as an AIDS activist along with Jill. Ritchie begins a relationship with another actor but is forced to confront the reality of AIDS. Colin is diagnosed with AIDS and is detained in a hospital under the Public Health Act, 1984. His mother and friends watch in horror as he suffers rare neurological symptoms caused by progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. A one-night stand leads Roscoe to a profitable relationship with a closeted Conservative MP. With the help of a lawyer, Colin is released from the Welsh hospital and brought to London to be cared for on a unit where many other men are suffering from AIDS. Ritchie, Jill, Ash and Roscoe visit Colin, but his condition worsens and he dies. Everyone is heartbroken by the loss and it prompts those who were close to Colin to take the HIV test.
Episode 4: March 1988. Ritchie is diagnosed with AIDS and goes home to the Isle of Wight where he struggles to confide in his family. He speaks with an old friend and decides to return to London, vowing to fight the disease. Ash is ordered to censor the school library to comply with new rules forbidding public institutions from informing children about homosexuality under Section 28. Roscoe takes a personal stand against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as protests begin against pharmaceutical companies who are profiting off the disease.
Episode 5: November 1991. Ritchie’s condition worsens and other friends continue to die. Ritchie dreams of returning to the stage and insists on chemotherapy when he is diagnosed with lymphoma. Ash and Ritchie confess their feelings for each other, and Ritchie’s parents finally discover the truth and take him home to the Isle of Wight. Jill and Roscoe follow, but are denied the opportunity to say goodbye to Ritchie before he dies. Jill confronts Ritchie’s mother for making him live in shame. After heading back to London, Roscoe goes home to see his parents and Jill visits the hospital to support a lonely man dying from AIDS. The ending shows a flashback to Ritchie and his friends enjoying their time together, before the AIDS pandemic hit.