• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

It’s a Sin

ByTalulla Cragg

Feb 7, 2021

5 stars

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

CW: queerphobia

Russell T Davies has long been treasured for his contributions to queer British drama. It’s been over two decades since Queer as Folk (1999) was released which was hailed as ground-breaking, yet the show garnered criticism for its failure to address the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Now, Davies has turned back the clock and finally put Aids at the forefront. The result is both heartbreaking and sensational.
It’s a Sin follows the lives of Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin, who move to London, and, with their friends Jill and Ash, move into a flat they name ‘The Pink Palace’. Anticipating the freedoms promised by city life, they embrace a youthful spirit of vibrant joy, set to a soundtrack of classic eighties synth pop anthems by Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, Soft Cell and more.

However, the epidemic soon becomes more real, through news, rumour, and personal heartbreak. As the crisis escalates, the accompanying stigma threatens their freedom even further.
The series spans across a decade, with each episode occurring two years after the last. This timespan invites a deep emotional investment; as the years go by and the lives of these characters change, friendships grow stronger, and the threat of disease looms larger.

However, Davies doesn’t scrap the funny, and the irreverent humour shared between friends underlines exactly what they have to lose. This subtle balancing of light and dark is where Davies really excels, and it’s a fitting reminder to find joyful moments in fearful times.

The cast represent a range of attitudes with lifelike complexity. One standout character is Jill (Lydia West), a loyal friend and the only woman of the group, who extends her care for others generously. Olly Alexander gives a commendable, spirited performance as Ritchie, and other memorable performances include those by Callum Scott Howells and Andria Doherty as the lovable Colin and his mum.

The familiar faces of Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry are fully convincing, while Keeley Hawes brings a striking force to Ritchie’s mum, Valerie. The show succeeds in making every individual character feel important – for all their charms and flaws, you can’t help but laugh and cry along with them.

The series is inspired by Davies’ experience as a gay man during the eighties, and it shows. The commitment to doing these real stories justice emanates from the screen, particularly through his beautiful screenplay. In fact, It’s a Sin couldn’t be more timely. As we continue to live through a pandemic, uncertainty surrounding our future and the threat of loss is immediately recognisable; reactions of denial, panic and anxiety all resonate.

As peripheral conversation becomes discrimination, the virus is not the only threat: Davies aptly points to shame, encouraged by the negligence of Thatcher’s government and society as a whole, as equally damaging. The stigma which enveloped HIV continues to stop people from getting treatment, although the virus is entirely treatable and preventable today.

This hindsight makes It’s a Sin all the more heart-breaking to watch, yet Davies remains faithful to the complexities of an often misunderstood time. In the final episode, Ritchie remarks, “That’s what people will forget. That it was so much fun”, which embodies a brilliant sensitivity, at once paying tribute to devastating loss, without casting a shadow over the love shared by the LGBTQ+ community in this period.

There was an appalling amount of untold suffering, but the fearsome solidarity of a marginalised group must be remembered, and this drama does just that. Imbued with raw honesty, vibrancy and respect, It’s a Sin is a beautiful commemoration of those who lived and died throughout the HIV/Aids epidemic.

With the sadness of each death, Davies pays tribute to a passion for life. It is a vital, queer retelling of stories which retain poignancy for so many. It is more than just deeply moving, it offers a vital insight into one of the darkest chapters of queer and British history. Frankly, it would be a sin not to watch it.

Image: Jay Paul via Wikimedia Commons