7 Reasons to Love 'It’s A Sin'
It’s A Sin is a Channel 4 drama about the Aids crisis as experienced by a group of friends living in London in the 1980s. Should you watch it? Yes. Why? See below…
1. The show itself is an underdog
Written by Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who, Torchwood), the story – or rather, stories – within It’s A Sin are told across five episodes. Based on Davies’ writing record and successes so far in British television, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would get snapped up by the first studio to hear the pitch. Yet initially it was turned down by BBC One, ITV and Channel 4... but thanks to a persistent Commissioning Editor of Drama, Lee Mason, Channel 4 took the miniseries on, with Davies and Nicola Shindler as Executive Producers. It was subsequently released to a hugely positive audience response – not to mention that it currently has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. From a show that started out as a ‘hard sell’ (Davies’ words), it is now breaking records, becoming All 4’s most binged series ever.
2. Gay actors in gay roles
Before getting to the main point of this item, it must be said that the cast of the show is excellent before you even think about the 'ethics' of the casting choices. Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris and Keeley Hawes all feature as supporting characters, but add a touch of star power, even if they aren't in every episode. The actors playing the core group of friends, however, are who shine the most, with Ritchie Tozer (played by Olly Alexander of Years and Years) taking centre stage, along with Roscoe Babatunde (Omari Douglas), Colin Morris-Jones (Callum Scott Howells) and Jill Baxter (Lydia West). Russell T Davies made a conscious decision to cast gay people in gay roles and apparently this has caused some debate. However, speaking on Steph's Packed Lunch last week, he spoke of his pride for the cast and how since the show has aired, people have been able to see exactly why authentic casting was crucial for this show. Watch a clip of the interview below:
3. The Soundtrack is phenomenal
The choice, timing and placement of each song has been curated to enhance the meaning of the scene so that not only are we placed in 1980s and swayed by the tempo and the mood of each track, but the lyrics and titles take on new meanings too. Highlights include Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', Wham!'s 'Freedom', Queen's 'Who Wants To Live Forever', Enola Gay's 'Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark'. The song playing in the clip above is 'Do You Wanna Funk?' by Patrick Cowley and it also happens to be one of my favourite scenes in terms of the cinematography. My only (very slight, personal) complaint relates to Belinda Carlisle's 'Heaven Is a Place On Earth', which, in my mind at least, belongs to the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror.
4. Jill Baxter
Jill is the main female character in It's A Sin. She lives with her best friends in the Pink Palace and as a result is fully immersed in LGBTQ culture. Although it could be said that the show follows the three boys who move to London (Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin), in many ways we experience the Aids epidemic through Jill's eyes: she witnesses the scepticism, the illness and the death. Through her, we see how the invisible threat of HIV/Aids went from a disease that many denied, to a monster that threatened the existence of everyone in her life. She is kind-hearted, resilient, selfless and the epitome of a loyal friend - in many ways she is a guardian angel for the young men around her. It came as a joyous surprise to me when I read that Davies based Jill on a number of people who volunteered during the crisis - one of whom is Jill Nalder. Not only that, but (real life) Jill Nalder plays a role in the show as (character) Jill Baxter's mum, Christine!
5. Representation of Mothers
It's A Sin has been commended for the way that it deals with the effects of Aids - and rightly so! In addition to this, it also deserves praise for the varied representation of mothers. Keeley Hawes as Ritchie's mum Valerie is the complete antithesis to Colin's Welsh mam, Eileen, played wonderfully by Andria Doherty. Roscoe's mother, a Nigerian woman committed to her religion shows yet another perspective. Then you have the aforementioned Christine Baxter who shows up to stand alongside her daughter in a peaceful protest. It's reassuring to see different mother figures presented, instead of an over-reliance on stock characters or predictable tropes. No spoilers, but one of them isn't quite what she seems.
6. The Candour
One would hope that in 2020, everyone knows what Aids and HIV is. Progress and science means that with the right care and treatment, people with HIV can now live a normal, healthy life. This series will help you to realise how far society was from this a relatively short time ago. The absence of knowledge about the disease resulted in contempt for the community and deplorable levels of care for those who were unfortunate enough to contract it.
It's A Sin portrays the euphoric highs of being a young gay or bisexual man in liberal London in the 1980s, as well as the devastating lows as the effects of Aids became more and more apparent - the physical, social, mental and cultural effects. The series is extremely well edited, but unfiltered when it comes to the reality of what it was like to be a gay or queer 40 years ago. The stigma, the violence, the ignorance, the hatred, the shame, the abandonment - it's all there, and because of that it feels even more honest. Coupled with the previous point about casting, this means that It's A Sin is one of the most authentic gay television shows ever made.
7. It achieves so much in just five episodes
Russell T Davies achieves an unfathomable amount in just five episodes. First, it spans a whole decade (1981 - 1991), which is incredibly ambitious but seamlessly accomplished. Second, despite it being about disease and dying, there are plenty of moments and scenes filled with love and joy. Third, there is enough character development that you can be invested in each story - even minor characters' arcs are compelling. That is a feat in itself!
Yet, beyond the show's commercial success, it has also been linked to a rise in HIV testing. Furthermore, people have drawn parallels between the AIDS epidemic and the current Coronavirus pandemic, with this article citing ways that we can learn lessons from It's A Sin.
Thankfully, people can continue to enjoy and learn from It's A Sin for decades to come now, even if it breaks their hearts in the process.
It's a Sin premiered on Channel 4 in the UK on Friday 22 January - watch it on All 4 now! It will be released on HBO Max on Thursday, February 18.
Watch the HBO trailer for It's A Sin below - be warned, it reveals quite a few plot points so watch at your own peril!
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