Last year, three brilliant London-set TV shows punctuated our endless hours spent at home. ‘I May Destroy You’, ‘I Hate Suzie’ and ‘Small Axe’ each power-cleaned away the monotony of lockdown – reminding us of the vibrance of city life, from its silly highs to its chest-crushing lows – before we sank back into the grey again.
The latest show to do this? ‘It’s a Sin’. Starting tonight on Channel 4, the five-part miniseries smacks you in the face with endorphins and emotions. It’s made by Russell T Davies, the writer of ‘Queer as Folk’ and ‘Years and Years’, and is based on the experiences he and his friends had of city life in the ‘80s – a decade of partying and possibility but also deep-set homophobia, racism and the Aids crisis.
The show follows Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander from the band Years and Years). Young, queer and ready to have a very fun time finding himself, he moves to London in 1981, just as the first murmurings about a virus killing gay men hit UK shores. We watch as he and his friends attempt to process what’s happening amidst a lack-of-information, then misinformation and conspiracy. We watch as public hysteria grows and Aids is used as a tool to alienate. We watch as each diagnosis leads to secrecy and shaming. And we watch as exponential numbers of men begin to die. All while ‘80s bangers scream out of the TV.
Running from ‘81 to ‘91, ‘It’s a Sin’ is an education on how the Aids crisis actually panned out in London: you feel the injustice of a disease killing men who are only just starting to get a grasp on freedom and the additional injustice that came with how they were treated once they had it. But – similarly to how ‘I May Destroy You’ tackled the subject of rape – it’s also so much more than that.
Yes, the show will make you cry and make you angry but it’s also full of euphoria and humour. Much of this is thanks to brilliant, raw performances from Alexander and new faces Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells (as well as Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris). But it’s also thanks to the fact the characters’ stories are treated with respect – no-one’s behaviour is moralised, no subject is off limits. The story’s funny, joyful, beautiful and spicy as fuck at times.
You come away from ‘It’s a Sin’ feeling that little bit more emotionally attached to London’s history, knowing that little bit more about some of the darkest times for our city’s queer community and totally in love with the characters at its centre. If you want to immerse yourself in a powerful story about friendship, love and continuing to live your life at full pelt even in the scariest times, you probably should tune in. A word of warning though: each of the last three episodes hits you like a punch in the face.
Episodes watched: 1-4.