It’s A Sin is the latest drama from the mind of Russell T Davies, the man behind Queer as Folk, Cucumber and the revival of Doctor Who back in 2005. It follows a group of gay men and their friends in London from 1981 to 1991, depicting how the developing HIV and AIDS crisis impacted on their lives.
The series concentrates on 5 friends who meet in 1981 and move into a flat together. There’s outgoing and smart Ritchie (Olly Alexander), shy and mild-mannered Colin (Callum Scott Howells), flamboyant Nigerian Roscoe (Omari Douglas), sweet Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) and outgoing, responsible Jill (Lydia West). It’s A Sin follows the friends as they party and lead promiscuous lifestyles over the 80s, only for the AIDS crisis to slowly weave its way into their lives and affect friends and colleagues closest to them. Each deals with the developing crisis in their own way: Jill fights for AIDS awareness and help for those that are suffering, whereas Ritchie remains in denial and spreads conspiracy theories about AIDS. But by 1991, the lives of the group and their families have been irrevocably changed.
It’s A Sin is a powerful drama about an emotive and serious subject. While it is not based on a completely true story (only Jill is loosely based on a real person, Jill Nalder, a friend of Davies), Russell T Davies has based this around his and his friends’ experiences of the AIDS crisis in the 80s and watching this you can really believe that these sorts of events happened across the 80s and 90s. The attitudes and experiences shown here, from the hedonistic lifestyles to the rampant denial and conspiracy theories, are terrifying and sadly a true to life depiction of the attitudes at the time, and make for a rather emotional and sometimes harrowing watch.
Despite the serious subject, It’s A Sin isn’t entirely sombre. It starts out as a story of friendship and fun and there are a lot of heartwarming scenes and a surprising amount of laughs. Some might think the uplifting side of this drama detracts from the seriousness of the AIDS crisis, but personally, I found the lighthearted scenes helped balance the rather sobering seriousness, especially as the episodes gradually become graver and graver as the crisis progresses. Even the gay sex scenes are fun and made mostly for laughs rather than any sort of eroticism. It’s impressive that Davies has managed to pull off a series that seamlessly blends lighthearted entertainment with a serious topic, without making light of such a harrowing crisis.
It helps that the cast are fantastic. Olly Alexander, who I knew nothing about other than recognising a few Years and Years songs, is an absolute star and a standout as Ritchie. He’s charismatic and engaging and when he’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him. The rest of the main cast too are just as good, especially this being their first major tv role in the case of Howells and Douglas. They’re ably supported by a host of seasoned veterans, including Neil Patrick Harris as Colin’s work colleague, Stephen Fry as a closeted MP that Roscoe meets, and Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley as Ritchie’s parents. Hawes and Dooley are especially moving and ultimately surprising in the later episodes when their true attitudes as parents are revealed. My only real criticism of this series is so minor it’s barely worth mentioning, but I did get a little frustrated that Ritchie’s full name was Ritchie Tozer, as this is the same name as Richie Tozier from Stephen King’s IT. Admittedly a different spelling, but it did grate on me a little throughout the episodes as it’s not exactly a common name.
However, despite my reservations on character naming, It’s A Sin is a fantastic heartwarming yet sobering drama that can’t be faulted. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything so engaging and emotional.