Updated: Jan 29
Image courtesy of NME.
Screenwriter Russell T Davies has struck gold again, this time with It’s a Sin, a poignant depiction of the HIV/AIDS crisis in London. Centred around a group of friends in the 1980s, the show plunges the viewer into the excitement of the gay scene in the UK capital, with all its liveliness and unstoppable passion. Unstoppable, that is, until a new terror arrives from across the Atlantic. As young men known to the friends start dying from a ‘gay cancer’, it seems that the wider society is doing its best to push the disease under the rug, with numerous characters being locked away in hospital wards and treated with caution for fear they may be contagious.
Ritchie, played by the indomitable Olly Alexander, famed singer of pop trio Years & Years, steals the show, charismatic and self-assured as he breaks the shackles of a repressed upbringing. Other characters face similar experiences of liberation, such as Roscoe (Omari Douglas), the son of a religious family from Nigeria intent on ‘beating the devil’ out of him. Meanwhile, the young men in the house have the support of Jill (played by Lydia West), a compassionate friend who is understandably alarmed as more and more men around her start to die.
It is worth remembering, especially in these days of COVID-19, that there was little known about HIV/AIDS at the time in which the series is set. Most people initially thought it was a disease that only affected gays, which further stigmatised members of the already fragile queer community. In the end, as many people now know, it transpired that anyone could contract the illness. Similarly, numerous people believed in the early days of lockdown that COVID-19 would not affect them, only then to fall ill. Perhaps there is an empathy for the characters in the show, the fear and uncertainty, not to mention the sorrow of losing a loved one. It is an empathy that may very well have not been there had the events of the last year never taken place. Even so, this is merely postulating.
Now that people are more aware of the nature of HIV/AIDS, the number of cases is much lower than it was back in the early days. Advances in medicine have also made it next to impossible for those who are HIV positive in the First World to develop AIDS, let alone transmit the virus to a partner. It is breakthroughs such as these that lend hope to the situation, and more people should be aware of them. The Terrence Higgins Trust warns that “…many people’s views are firmly stuck in the 1980s”, and that it is paramount to remind people that the nature of HIV/AIDS has changed substantially since the days of the initial outbreak.
The show is nothing short of a masterpiece. Some depictions of AIDS patients in the past have failed to reveal the more human element of the characters. It’s a Sin is fun, fabulous and brutally honest. It can be watched now on All 4.