Amongst the additively trashy, minimal-concentration-required TV shows that got us through last year – Below Deck, Emily in Paris, Selling Sunset, we’re looking at you – there were also some ‘slap-you-round-the-face-and-snap-you-out-of-your-lockdown-stupor’ masterpieces that left you thinking about the plotlines and characters long after the credits rolled on the last episode. The likes of Michaela Coel’s ‘I May Destroy You’, Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper’s ‘I Hate Suzie’ and Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’.
At once vibrant and dark, enthralling and also downright uncomfortable to watch, all three shone a light on important issues, from consent and sexual assault to the UK’s history of racism. Now ‘It’s a Sin’, Channel 4’s new five-part series from ‘Queer As Folk’ writer Russell T Davies, is set to do the same for AIDS.
The first British television drama to focus on the 1980’s epidemic, ‘It’s a Sin’ is based on Davies’ experience of London life; not just the exuberance, pleasure and possibility that the capital offered, but also the homophobia, racism and, of course, the looming threat of AIDS. A coming-of-age tale set to a banging ’80s soundtrack, the series follows three young gay men, Ritchie (Year and Years’ Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and Colin (Calum Scott Howells) who arrive in London in 1981, just as word of a virus killing gay men hits the UK. The trio (along with Ritchie’s college pal Jill, played by Lydia West) become the best of friends, move into a flat which they christen the “Pink Palace’ and discover their true identities, but just as they are experiencing their longed for freedom, the AIDS crisis throws a grenade into their lives. As much as ‘It’s a Sin’ is euphoric and laugh out loud funny, it’ll have you bubbling with anger and blinking back tears at the injustice of the disease and the dark times experienced by the queer community.
Like ‘Small Axe’, ‘It’s A Sin’ is an education on its subject matter. Davies said he wanted 18-year-olds today to see a life they never knew existed; he talks of friends who led vital campaigns against the epidemic, of friends whose hands he held as they died. “I lived through those times, and it’s taken me decades to build up to this,” Davies tells Variety. “And as time marches on, there’s a danger the story will be forgotten. So it’s an honour to write this for the ones we lost, and the ones who survived.” To people outside the queer community, it’s easy to think that AIDS is something we left in the ‘80s, but according to the National AIDS Trust, in 2019 it was estimated that there are 105, 200 people living with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) in the UK, highlighting that the pain and suffering of minority groups is still not openly or adequately addressed today. Hopefully ‘It’s A Sin’, in all it’s joyful, heart-breaking glory will change that.
If you’d like to know more about HIV and AIDS, the National AIDS Trust website and Instagram feed is a brilliant source of information.
All five episodes of ‘It’s a Sin’ are available to watch on Channel 4 now.