It’s A Sin, Channel 4’s latest drama series, tells the story of a group of friends living through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Whilst many films and documentaries have been made about AIDS in the United States, It’s A Sin is the first to effectively explore the UK’s story of the epidemic.
Beginning in 1981 and spanning a decade, the series follows Ritchie, Colin and Roscoe, as they leave the crushing homophobia of their small-town lives for the streets of London.
Accompanied by the powerful and handsome Ash, and angelic and strong Jill, the characters begin to explore the exhilaration of gay life in London, whilst living in their flat dubbed ‘The Pink Palace’.
But what begins as a whirlwind of liberating parties and sex, soon falls apart, as the virus ravages their community with irrevocable effects.
With the shadow of the epidemic growing larger with each episode, the story of infections, hospital beds, and death make for a depressing synopsis.
But screenwriter Russell T. Davies, creator of Queer as Folk and A Very English Scandal, as well as the 2005 revival of Doctor Who, nuances this theme by depicting the reality of the crisis and its ordinary victims and survivors.
One such part of this reality is the denial faced by so many young gay men who, immortalised in main man Ritchie Tozer, rejected the presence of ‘the gay cancer’ as a ‘pack of lies’.
And, in another subplot, a character is fired over suspicions he has AIDS by the same gay boss who tries to have sex with him.
It is through these representations of denial, stigma and homophobia that Davies shows that the only thing that loomed larger than the death rate was the prejudice that fuelled it.
Partnering Davies’ powerful screenwriting comes expert acting of the cast, from Olly Alexander’s charismatic Ritchie to Callum Scott Howells’ heart-stealing Colin.
As well as this, Lydia West’s selfless allyship as Jill brilliantly contrasts with Keeley Hawes’ steely and sickening role as a homophobic mother who she sadly describes as “a product of her generation”.
With supporting acts from David Carlyle, Neil Patrick Harris, and Stephen Fry, the gay cast also sets a ground-breaking standard for LGBTQ+ representation in television.
Furthering this, the series also features many 80s hits and gay anthems, headed by the show’s namesake song, the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’ which vents upon the anger of living in shame.
This pre-eminent telling of the UK’s AIDS story drew in over 6.5 million viewers to Channel 4 in its ‘most binged new series ever’, before premiering on HBO Max last week.
As well as lots of viewers, the show has brought in rave reviews, with fans praising everything about the show from the well-written characters to the superb acting.
One fan wrote: “Week after week we’ve been blown away by the young cast fizzing off the screen…Remarkable and important television.”
The LGBTQ+ community also flooded Twitter detailing how the show brought back memories of their experience living through that time, with one man remembering: “Lost friends, lost dreams and lost youth”.
And as well as representing the voices and lives of those lost in the crisis, the series has also spread awareness of the ways in which HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, exists today.
It’s A Sin has resulted in a 400% uptick in demand for HIV testing kits, with cast members encouraging testing during this month’s National HIV Testing Week.
And though the show’s education and activism does much to raise awareness about the disease, it is clear that the series does much more than chronicle the AIDS epidemic.
It tells the story of how an entire community, newly liberated by law, was trapped by the deathly grip of a silent disease.
With central tenets of friendship, fear, pride and prejudice, Davies’ magnum opus humanises the victims of the crisis, and makes sure that everyone knows – it was never a sin.
Featured image credit: Channel 4 via All 4