Russell T. Davies' ('Queer as Folk', 'Banana') new drama series has been garnering praise since its release at the end of January. It has become Channel 4's most-streamed series ever - and for very good reason.
Spanning an entire decade, 'It's a Sin' begins in 1981 in a London that has had cases of a new, mysterious, immunodeficiency virus. For a time known as a "gay disease", AIDS became rampant within the community, killing men who showed, at first, no symptoms of the infectious disease. All of the fleeting highs and the lowest of lows of this time are covered in the series - but it is imperative for us to note that this was back then. Today of course, those who are diagnosed with HIV can live out a normal, healthy life, as long as they are treated. But for the characters in Davies' series, unfortunately, this lifestyle was never an option.
'It's a Sin' introduces us to a group of teenagers/20-somethings who have all moved to the blistering lifestyle of London for one reason or another. Colin (Callum Scott Howells) moves from his country-living in Wales to become a tailor's apprentice in a top London establishment; Roscoe (Omari Douglas) thinks that his Nigerian heritage prevents him from being himself, and he leaves his home for good; Richie (Olly Alexander) fears coming out to his family, and believes London will be a place where he can truly be free; while Jill (Lydia West) is an activist-turned-actress who dreams of making a difference in the world.
At first, the friends have the time of their lives. They're young, they're horny, and they're ready to hit the town. As much fun as the series-opening is, it's important not to get too comfortable with this facade. Even judging the series just by its promotional trailer, one would think its a riot with '80s pop synths from start to finish. There are moments of this, sure, but it's so much more besides.
With the series only being five episodes, the drama comes in hard and heavy in episode one. At first, the group of friends try their best to ignore this "mystery illness" that has claimed thousands of lives over in the States already - "How is a cancer gay? What does it look like? Is it pink?" - and fob it off as something created by homophobic people.
However, the cases begin to increase as we travel further into the '80s with them, and some of their friends begin to "go home" and never return. It deals with the characters battling this uncertain time of their lives - with newspapers and medial staff treating HIV patients with incredible passiveness. As one character points out - what would the world do if it was hundreds of heterosexual men who were dying every single day?
Although this is a dramatisation of the horrific epidemic that swept through the community, it is important to note that it's a somewhat accurate portrayal of what happened (by 1987 the WHO estimated that 5-10 million people were living with HIV worldwide). And yet - it is still happening. HIV is 100% treatable in this day and age, but in the year 2021, there is still a stigma around the topic.
'It's a Sin' is able to show to the world how far we've come, but yet how far we still need to go. It's a series about a disease that is still here today. It is, however, an incredible step forward, highlighting the queer community in such a light that hasn't been overtly covered in a TV series to date. Moreover, the series breaks down that barrier that a lot of people have around the subject. The casting of HIV positive actor, Nathaniel J Hall, as a supporting character is one that should be applauded. He is living proof that there is a light at the end of this dark, alarming tunnel that the series leads us down.
It is a series that is very personal to creator Russell T. Davies. He lived through the '80s, and many of his friends are now dead because of AIDS. It's what lead him to create this, after admitting to having ignored what he lived through for so long. As we've learned in recent memory, it's the keeping quiet which can sometimes be the bigger problem.
In conclusion, no matter your sexual preference, gender, race, or beliefs, this series will be certain to strike a chord with you. As Davies' says in a recent column for The Guardian about the show: "It’s said that ignorance kills. But sometimes we die because we’re so bloody smart."
'It's a Sin' is available to stream via the Channel 4 app.