Length: 5 x episodes (40-50 minutes each)
Russell T Davies is a very interesting, creative cat. If you haven’t heard of him, you’ve likely seen some of his work. His early career featured critically acclaimed shows like Queer as Folk and Casanova, however, he was thrust spectacularly into the mainstream in 2005 as the showrunner of the newly rebooted version of Doctor Who.
Presiding over two of the very best Doctors on the show, Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant, Davies spent the next four years making the time-travelling space hobo relevant for modern tastes.
Since then, he’s headed up multiple projects, including Years and Years: a spectacular drama/sci-fi yarn that would be an easy contender for one of the great shows of all time, had it not whiffed the ending so spectacularly.
Seriously, watch it, but stop at the sixth (and final) episode about the halfway mark. Up until that moment, it’s stunning, savage and unmissable. Afterwards, it’s a pile of festy monkey trousers.
Davies’ latest project, It’s a Sin, however, suffers from no such shortcomings and maybe one of his finest works to date.
It’s a Sin tells the story of a group of friends all living in London in 1981. Life is a non-stop party of hedonism and joyful celebration. However the spectre of a new disease called AIDS looms, and our group begins to feel its impact in sudden and often heartbreaking ways.
It’s difficult to even fathom how hard AIDS hit society, particularly the gay community, back in the 80s. Not only was the disease horrible, but the ignorance of how it was transmitted, the deeply ingrained homophobia of many, and the corrosive stigma of blame and guilt exacerbated the problem exponentially.
If that all sounds like heavy material to dig into, you’re not wrong. However, the way Davies chooses to tell the story, focusing on the day-to-day lives and loves of his main characters, rather than employing contrived monologues or tawdry melodrama, gives the show a frequently upbeat, joyful vibe.
It helps that the cast are uniformly fantastic and the characters credible, often lovable. Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander) wants to be the biggest star of stage and screen the world has ever seen, he embraces life with a passion. Roscoe Babatude (Omari Douglas) is a gleeful smart arse, whose sharp tongue hides his despair at being kicked out of home by his religious, homophobic dad. Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells) is a wonderfully gormless Welsh lad, who really just wants to be part of the excitement, even if he’s terminally square.
And wonderful Jill Baxter (Lydia West) who loves her friends, and is one of the first of the group to realise this AIDS thing might just be a real issue after all.
It’s a fascinating look back in time, particularly with Ritchie playing the 80s equivalent of an anti-vaxxer, and how attitudes were slowly changed. Some people were concerned and did their best to investigate, while others kept dancing and ignoring the problem, turning their lives into a real-life version of Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.
Much like Years and Years, It’s a Sin’s story covers a large span of time, about a decade in this case. And while it’s heavy at times, and you’ll probably cry at least once, it’s also a celebration of humanity, and the kindness and goodness people can tap into during dark periods, which feels all too relevant for today.
HIV is still with us, of course, although far more manageable thanks to medical advancements like PrEP, a treatment that means people living with HIV no longer pass it on to their sexual partners. It’s a Sin is a reminder of how far we’ve come, both medically and intellectually, in our treatment of the disease, and the way we react to those who have it.
It’s a Sin, therefore, is both a tribute to where we are and a stunning look back at those we lost along the way. It’s kind, engaging drama with wonderfully observed moments and utterly believable characters, and the only real sin here would be if you missed it.
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