The Powerful New Drama About Love & Friendship In The AIDS Epidemic

Alicia Lansom
·4-min read

If, like us, you were beginning to think that you’d watched every television show ever made, you’ll be relieved to know that Channel 4 is about to end your lockdown drought with a brand-new five-part series. Written by Queer As Folk creator Russell T. Davies, It’s A Sin straddles the line between uplifting and sombre as it details the lives of a group of teenagers embracing their sexuality in the 1980s, just as a new virus begins to take hold.

The first episode kicks off in 1981 with the young cast ready to tackle adulthood head-on. Ritchie (Olly Alexander), a prospective law student from the Isle Of Wight who is keeping his queerness a secret from his family, has secured a place at a London university. Swapping the constraints of his hometown for the lights of the big city, he quickly develops a tight-knit friendship with drama student Jill (Lydia West).

Elsewhere, we meet Roscoe (Omari Douglas), who’s battling against his family’s cultural beliefs and religious teachings. Choosing to leave home to avoid persecution, he embarks on a new life alone in London, working as a bartender at a local queer-friendly watering hole. It’s here that he meets Ritchie, Jill and fellow student Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) and the group soon decide to move into a typically shabby houseshare.

We’re then introduced to Colin (Callum Scott Howells), a quiet boy from an unassuming town in the Welsh valleys who moves to London to work as an apprentice on Savile Row. Lodging in someone’s family home, he ventures out to the bar in the hope of more excitement and is invited to drinks at the group’s flat. Hearing about an available spot sharing a room with Roscoe, Colin quickly puts himself forward, thereby completing the family of five.

Individually, the teenagers begin to explore young adulthood, each pursuing professional passions and romantic interests with full force. The atmosphere of the run-down flat is one of love and safety (as well as being the perfect setting for a never-ending string of parties). But the looming threat of a mystery illness soon becomes big news in the community, creating a divide between those who believe the rumours to be true and those who see the illness as another attempt to damage the validity of queer men and their relationships.

With little information available about the AIDS virus itself, the teenagers choose to live life as normal, ignoring the whispers of widespread illness in the US. Cutting between scenes of joy on the dance floor and news from the front lines of the disease, viewers will fear for the blissful naivety of our young friends, knowing it is only a matter of time before the devastation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic wheedles its way into this group, as yet untouched by dread, living and loving unabashedly.

The series was created long before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold but there are clear parallels between It’s A Sin and life in 2021, from the government’s mishandling of a fatal illness to the rapid spread of misinformation. But the similarities end when it comes to Davies’ moving portrayal of the unforgivable stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS victims – a deep trauma which is still keenly felt in the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s A Sin largely focuses on the starry-eyed ambitions of a group of teenagers but it pulls on other themes, too, from strained family ties to the comfort found in everlasting friendships. And while it certainly explores the grief experienced by the queer community in the 1980s, the series mostly emphasises the power of choosing happiness instead of fear.

Set across a time span of 10 years, it’s likely we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the group’s experiences, but if the rest of the episodes are anything like the first, prepare for an emotional ride.

It’s A Sin starts on Channel 4 at 9pm on Friday 22nd January and will be available to stream on All 4 shortly after.

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