There’s a scene in the first episode where the gay protagonists are interviewed: asked where they want to be in five, ten years’ time. They smile optimistically, naively; not knowing what the 80s will bring. Davies even taps into the conspiracy theories, the fake news, the disbelief – all in the absence of the Internet. He shows how the virus collected prejudice as much as corpses. The vitriol against gay men, as shown in the series, is hard to swallow. As it should be.
Photo: Channel 4
Davies – one of the great writers in British TV – naturally and beautifully swerves the misery porn It’s A Sin could’ve been. You watch a lot of gay men having fun through the nightclubs of London, especially the 18-year-old student Ritchie (Years & Years’ Olly Alexander) who sleeps with countless men in a hilarious montage pumping with remixed classical music.
Ritchie's joined by the British-Nigerian Roscoe (Omari Douglas), who's out and condemned by his aggressively religious family. And then there's Colin (Callum Scott Howells), lovely Colin, a meticulous introvert working on Savile Row with an Alan Partridge haircut. It’s exciting simply to spend time with them, feeling and envying all their social and sexual freedoms as we’re stuck in Britain’s third lockdown.
Soon the virus crosses beyond the unavoidable line (one that’s all too familiar) and reaches into the lives of everybody you’ve come to love. In a self-penned piece for The Observer, Davies expresses the 'here today, gone tomorrow' experience of Aids: sweeping away so many people, with memories manipulated or destroyed by mortified families. The haunting hospital corridors, frequented by the characters, look into rooms where confused victims wait in their beds.
Ritchie's friend Jill (Lydia West) becomes an activist against Aids. Photo: Channel 4
But even though the doom seems an impossible feat to beat, there are those willing to endure the fight. Ritchie’s uni-friend Jill (Lydia West), based on a real-life mate of Davies, becomes an anti-Aids activist along with many others – getting stuck in to help her friends.
During a difficult protest scene, the courage of these men and women explodes like a fantastically obstructive supernova, evoking the marches and speeches we’ve seen more recently. The bonds, the friendships, the love, and the support work together in a shattering fusion – despite the mostly inevitable destinations.
It’s impossible to discuss every incredible performance that struck an emotional chord. But – choosing one – Olly Alexander is a startling talent, maintaining Ritchie's enjoyable and misguided denial about the virus, while being wrapped in a delightfully extroverted personality. You can see that despite a smile bigger than the sun, it’s often just scaffolding: protecting the fear inside.
January hasn't finished yet and, by professional standards, it’s premature to mark any show as being among the best of the year. But screw it. It’s A Sin reaches in so deep and hits with such traumatic force that even recollections of certain scenes find your tears and implode your heart. It’s a remarkable, upsetting, funny, and frightening achievement in television.
It's A Sin airs on Friday 22 January at 9pm on Channel 4.
|What||It's A Sin, Channel 4 review|
22 Jan 21 – 22 Jan 22, ON CHANNEL 4
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