It’s a Sin, the new drama from Russell T. Davis, has already took the U.K. by storm and I’m sure it’s arrival in the U.S. will make the same waves. It is a dark, honest, loving, brutal, sporadically funny, take on three young men growing up in 1980’s London with the shadow of the AIDS epidemic encroaching on their lives. It begins in 1981 and runs through the crisis to 1991. The decade exploration covers the spread of the virus, the misinformation, and the tragic effects that AIDS had on the LGBTQ+ community.
Russell T. Davis, the writer of Doctor Who and Queer as Folk, has once again created a masterpiece. Despite Queer as Folk being set in the 90s, it never explicitly mentions the AIDS crisis once. There were whispers to characters dying but nothing is said in the show about AIDS explicitly. Whereas Davis is now bravely placing AIDS at the centre of his new drama and It’s a Sin is being heralded as the first U.K. drama to directly follow the crisis as it spread over the country. Davis has already come forward and said writing so in-depth about this subject was something he has always wanted to do and, only now, he felt like an experienced enough writer to tackle it and do the people and situation justice. The viewer sees his abilities in his writing and he even offers his long-term fans a Doctor Who call back in the series which put a smile on my face.
The backdrop of England in the 1980s is a common setting for dramas and has offered great cult classics such as This is England, Billy Elliot, and Pride. It offers a plethora of wild fashion and brilliant music. It’s a Sin is no exception and takes full advantage of it. The characters are believably donned in mohair jumpers and bold print shirts. The crew worked hard to create an authentic setting to the show and builds the realistic nature of the story. The aesthetic is vibrant and immersive. Some of the locations were filmed around Manchester, Stockport, and Liverpool and despite having lived here for most of my life, it was only when re-watching was I able to begin to recognise the buildings.
What It’s a Sin does so masterfully is offer the viewer well-rounded, individual characters. We are introduced to Ritchie, Colin, and Roscoe at the beginning of their adulthood. The viewer is shown all they want to achieve with their potential. They acquire themselves a chosen family and the actors marvellously portray the bonds, inside jokes, and nuances that real friends hold. Interviews with Davis has informed us that there are biographical elements which adds all the more to the visceral portrayal of the characters. It is a show about the LGBTQ+ community with a big focus on ‘community’. We see our beloved characters build themselves, their family, their home- their very own Pink Palace.
The director, Peter Hoar, also exercises his mastery over creating the episodes. It is filmed, in the most part, like a standard drama. However, there are certain standout scenes where he plays around with the form, having scenes that break the fourth wall or cutting from trauma to joy with a blink of an eye. In one crushing scene, he keeps the viewer unable to look away for a second, following one character moving throughout the scene. We aren’t offered any respite from the character’s emotions, but he keeps us closely with her as she falls through many different reactions in a matter of minutes. It cleverly mirrors the unescapable grasps AIDS had (and still has) on an individual.
While the show offers such loveable, funny characters, the devastation of AIDS is kept at the forefront of the show. It offers the viewer the shocking truth of how AIDS patients were treated by society. The 80s were an abominable time for the LGBTQ+ community where people could be sacked for being gay, let alone being public about their HIV/AIDS status.
The beginning of the show mention AIDS in whispers and tiny articles in a newspaper as the government tries to brush it away. Of course, they are unable to ignore AIDS as it continues to spread, but what is even more damaging is the lack of help they offer. No information, no helpful medical assistance. People left scared and vulnerable. This is the driving force of the show. The vulnerability and shame take centre stage and we see the character’s banding together to try and process what is happening.
People were stripped of basic human rights and the dignity they were denied is not shied away from in this show. Patients were left locked in hospital wards by staff leaving the viewer screaming at the screen for the injustice of it all. It, also, addresses how undertakers and crematoriums wouldn’t even take the bodies of people who had died of AIDS complications. Whether that was because of prejudice or because of ignorance. Because knowledge of how AIDS was transmitted had been hidden for so long, people were both ignorant and prejudiced. It was commonly believed that individuals were able to catch it from the body and it left people without proper funerals. It’s a Sin doesn’t shy from the trauma people endured throughout that time and addresses it with a truth and tact that I think will make it a timeless watch.
Shocking scenes illustrate the desperation people felt surrounding the AIDS epidemic. You watch as some of your favourite characters try random and dangerous ‘cures’ with the hope they are preventing AIDS developing. They ranged from drinking raw eggs to drinking battery acid. It showed how the lack of information and help offered to them by the negligent government only led to more damage.
The timely nature of It’s a Sin being released now allows the viewer to draw links between then and now with the dangers of misinformation. Fake news seemingly didn’t start from an old, orange man shouting it through a screen. In fact, this show tells us how it has always been a prevalent and dangerous issue. Moreover, the current pandemic, like the AIDS epidemic, is still having the most damning effects on marginalised groups. Old, rich, white people are being protected first and foremost with those less fortunate being cruelly left behind. History seems to be repeating its darkest moments.
Covid-19 is spoken about as a once in a lifetime historical event, and while that is true for the younger generation, it is actually the second devastating virus in some peoples’ lives. What we mustn’t forget is the massive impact AIDS had on a whole community.
2020 was a miraculous year in HIV/AIDS history with the first person being cured of HIV. Moreover, the stigma and lies surrounding the virus are being quelled every day. Celebrities like Jonathan Van Ness are doing their part and coming forward as HIV positive to raise awareness and destigmatise this virus. However, Russell T. Davis is worried that because HIV is becoming more manageable, people are becoming complacent about the dangers of the virus. It’s a Sin hits the viewer over the head with the devastating history that the LGBTQ+ community had to face alone, without help from the government- perhaps to encourage a much more serious and mature attitude to the HIV and AIDS.
I believe this show should be a must on everyone’s watchlist. It is informative, beautiful, funny, and tragic. It shows not only the importance of a chosen family but has key characters working hard at being allies to the community. It can be a hard watch at times, but I believe it has left me with a greater knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community to which I belong. That moment in history was so important to a whole generation and I think it is integral we learn from them.
The amazing artwork was provided by Charlotte Pole.
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