If you, like a lot of people, have already binged all of It's a Sin, you'll have been floored by every episode. Callum Scott Howells, who plays Colin, compared the third and fourth episodes to being shot, and the last one to being repeatedly stabbed, when we spoke with him. That sounded quite extreme at the time, but having sat with it for a while, it's quite a level-headed assessment.
(If you've not watched it all yet, you need to turn straight around and get out of here. There are a lot of spoilers for It's a Sin coming up.)
One scene in particular has a massive, hollowing power. It's in episode three, when Jill and Ritchie go to visit Colin and his mum in hospital. It starts off light enough, with Colin telling Ritchie that he always fancied him, before mentioning that he sometimes took himself off to, erm, sort himself out after seeing Ritchie exit the shower. Colin's mum apologises, as thanks to the infection which is slowly killing him, he "can't quite see the line sometimes".
And then, looking more and more glazed, Colin says to Ritchie: "You look good now." His hand goes under the covers, and he starts masturbating. It's a shocking and saddening moment, even more so than Colin throwing himself into his mum's arms and begging her, "Oh mammy, make them do something – I don't want to die."
"It was difficult to do, because you have to go there," Howells said. "Russell wrote something in the script, when Colin starts to masturbate: 'This isn’t funny, it’s dementia.' It is one of the most harrowing things to see. There’s none of that in his storyline up to that point, there’s no sex, there’s no sort of anything. So to see that and have that in the show was so bold of Russell, to put the most innocent character in a situation where he’s wanking. In front of his mother, as well."
While there are a lot of desperately sad arcs in It's A Sin, Colin's slide from being the Pink Palace's wholesome 18-year-old sweetheart, with an apprenticeship on Savile Row, to a 21-year-old unable to leave his hospital bed and increasingly detached from reality, feels particularly cruel. Not only is he dying, his dignity and self is being wrenched away from him in the most public way.
But as deeply upsetting as that scene is to watch, Howells said the actual shooting of it was tricky to do with a straight face.
"Let me just tell you something, right – when you have to masturbate in a scene, and everyone’s there, and I’m just sort of looking, deadpan, at Olly [Alexander] and Lydia [West], and then Ashley McGuire [playing the nurse Lorraine] comes in, who is the funniest fucking actor in the world… I’m not gonna lie, there were times when we all lost it."
Totally understandable. Who among us can honestly say we don't find even the word 'wank' inherently funny? I'm going to go out on a limb and say none among us.
"I wish I could say, 'Oh we took it really seriously' – and we did take it seriously! – but fuck me, there was times in that scene where we just lost it. I’m there, just wanking! D’you know what I mean? Obviously I wasn’t really wanking. But I was simulating it."
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