‘It’s a Sin’ Episode 1 Sets Up a New Approach to the Portrayal of the AIDs Epidemic

A promotional still from TV show 'It
s a Sin'. A group of 5 20-somethings are all sat in the back of a taxi, dressed for a night out in bright clothes, smiling joyfully.
Channel 4

In a year of political upheaval like no other, it can feel like we are living in one of the most difficult times in recent history. Then, along comes a show like Russell T. Davies’ It’s a Sin, which shifts everything into perspective once again. The series, which premiered on the UK’s Channel 4, centres around a group of friends who have all met each other in London and found the acceptance they couldn’t within their own families. Whilst we see their relationships form and their personalities flourish from finally finding a place where they can be themselves, the threat of the 1980s AIDS epidemic looms over the entire series. 

It is arresting to watch this show in 2021 because we know what is going to happen. At the beginning of the series when Ritchie (Olly Alexander) is leaving the Isle of Wight for London he casually throws away a pack of condoms that his father gives him. Ritchie has a knowing and roguish smile on his face because he knows his father has no idea of his true sexual orientation. The contrast of Ritchie’s youthful freedom with the dangerous repercussion of his casual decision is gut-wrenching for the audience to watch without being able to do anything. It’s one of those moments that makes you want to bang on your screen and tell them to stop. Davies has expertly made the audience a character in this show, one who can watch but have no effect on the action. Whilst the characters are oblivious, he cleverly adds little moments in the show to remind the audience of what is coming. News bulletins, articles and even snatches of overheard conversation pull the audience away from the main characters and into the tragedy of their future. 

Whilst this contrast may seem like it would be tonally difficult to achieve, Davies does it with his signature style—the same one he adopted for his series Years and Years in 2019. Whilst one aspect of this show is tragic, the other is celebratory; finally, these young people are able to find a community that accepts and loves them. Olly Alexander is a standout in the show, portraying the differing emotions and experiences that can come with opening yourself up to life. Davies shies away from stereotyping his characters or previously seen storylines. Many similar LGBT series have storylines that focus on the negative aspects of coming out, often leading the characters to hide their true selves. However, the other two main characters, Colin (Callum Scott Howells) and Roscoe (Omari Douglas) have storylines that show the opposite. Colin is lying to everyone —and himself— about his sexuality whilst Omari has been thrown out of his home because of his. Rather than showing the characters struggle for being themselves, Davies shows how vital the LGBTQIA+ community is in giving these young people a home. Both of them eventually fall in with Ritchie and his friends and realise there is a place they can be their true selves. 

Davies has taken on the difficult job of giving LGBTQIA+ characters the true depiction they deserve whilst also talking about a time when the community was most at risk and attacked. He has succeeded by ensuring the only villain in the series is false fiction. Rather than playing the blame game, as society did in the 80s, It’s a Sin shows that at times people can be subject to things that they can’t control, the only thing we can do is be there for each other, support each other and create a community that is suitable for everyone, no matter who you are.

All 5 episodes of It’s a Sin are available to stream on Channel 4 in the UK now. The episodes will be available in the USA on HBO Max from February 18th

by Aleena Augustine

Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms, coming of age films, animations and comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids). Her favourite films are Before SunriseInside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can read her blog, That’s What She Said and more of her writing at Music Bloggery.

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