It’s a Sin – Review

Oli Grant and Roxie Burton review the poignantly emotional series ‘It’s a Sin’.

“Video killed the radio star. Has COVID left Hollywood feeling a bit sub-par?” – Oli Grant.

The past year of restrictions and intermittent lockdowns has brought with it a rising demand for engaging and entertaining television content. We all need a distraction from the world around us, and the longer this distraction is, the better. The desire to plonk ourselves down in front of a short film in the evening has been replaced by the need to be completely immersed in a long series, to be transported from our own reality into another. I personally feel that just as video killed the radio star, COVID-19 has left Hollywood feeling a bit sub-par. I am clearly not alone in thinking this, as Amy Poehler so eloquently put it in her speech at the Golden Globes this year: 

‘I don’t wanna be in front of the TV for 2 hours I wanna be in front of the TV for one hour, five times’

I think Poehler really summed up the kind of digital content that, especially the younger generations, have been craving over the past year. Well executed and gripping series are the future of television. The future for a generation whose concentration span has shortened. The surge of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney +, as well as the exponential rise in the viewership of series-based dramas, over the last year speaks for itself. From the initial fascination with Tiger King (which I am convinced was spurred on by the public’s desire for content as strange and surreal as the environment they found themselves in), to the more recent obsession with shows like Bridgerton whose success seems to have come solely from the mass boredom which currently permeates our society. None, however, have been quite as successful as Channel 4’s It’s a Sin.

It’s a Sin follows the life of Ritchie, Roscoe, Coli, Ash and Jill, all of whom were living in London during the 1980’s HIV/AIDS pandemic. The friends move in together to a flat which they decide to call the ‘Pink Palace’, where they have fantastic parties and they vibrantly enjoy their 20s. The acting from all of the group is, without exception, fantastic. Each character is lovable, relatable and convincing. It is for this reason that their suffering is so utterly saddening and poignant. The group endure physical illness, homophobia, and hate. It causes you to claw at the glass screen in anger and desperation, yearning to help in any way you can. It is a truly painful and emotional ride. 

The show’s release during COVID-19 perfectly places its viewers into the shoes of its protagonists. It could not have been more timely. It allowed its audience to fully understand and empathise with a world where intimacy and touch were regarded as fearful and dangerous. For me, It’s a Sin garnered a sense of solidarity and understanding with a historical period from which I had always felt distant and disconnected. We read about the HIV/AIDS crisis in our history books at school, but were never truly educated about how it must have felt. Only now can we know what it is like to feel the constant threat of a silent killer or to wake up fearing the unknown. To feel both hopeless and helpless as we watch a death toll rising on our screens each day. That is not to say that we can or should attempt to equate our experiences from the pandemic today to the horrors of the 80’s, but merely that It’s a Sin opened up the possibility for us to reflect, rethink and re-conceptualise.

In this way, It’s a Sin reveals something truly magical about the power of modern television series. For through a series of short absorbing episodes we are able to build relationships with characters without getting bored and wandering off to make a cup of tea. In this way, television is a platform which gives us the ability to see and understand other perspectives, and to develop an emotional, empathetic understanding and relationship with our own history. It is truly revolutionary in this way. I hope for this reason that we continue to see more shows like It’s a Sin; shows which are both educational and emotional whilst retaining a fast paced and gripping narrative to sustain a modern audience. It was, in my opinion, the most successful series of the entire year, and as Amy Poehler might have predicted, I watched it all in one go.

“It’s not just about the tragedy of the epidemic, but it’s also a coming-of-age story about young people finding their feet and living life to the fullest” – Roxie Burton.

It’s a Sin, created by Russell T Davies, spans the sexy, vivacious era that was 1980’s London, and is quick to reveal the decade’s darker side. From the get-go we are made aware of a mysterious illness causing devastation throughout London, its victims predominantly young gay men. If you are anything like me, the AIDS epidemic was only something I was aware of when it affected celebrities. However, the show’s tragic and historic depiction of the AIDS crisis, helps shed light on the little-known British experience of the disease and the ruinous impact it had on London’s gay community. Make sure you have a box of tissues – or five – at the ready. 

The show begins by introducing us to the protagonists who all embrace the freedom-loving London life – Richie, Roscoe, Ash, Jill and finally Colin. You will fall in love with Colin, no question. The five of them meet in London’s gay nightclub scene and move in to the “Pink Palace” together.

We are quickly introduced to this “mysterious illness” through Colin’s mentor. Then as the series progresses, AIDS becomes ubiquitous in their everyday lives, yet the characters  remain ignorant about the disease’s severity. Ritchie poignantly delivers a monologue mocking the absurdity of a gay disease. Critics were quick to note the uncanny resemblance in the time of COVID.

At times it was easy to forget that the events portrayed in the show actually occurred. The treatment and degradation of AIDS sufferers was so uncomfortable to witness, yet so necessary to understand society’s treatment of the gay community. 

Many of minor characters are actually being played by prominent HIV activists – I’ll let you research that one yourself.  

The actor who plays Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) was quick to state that he didn’t think this was a show about AIDS. I agree that this is much more than that. It’s not just about the tragedy of the epidemic, but it’s also a coming-of-age story about young people finding their feet and living life to the fullest, surrounding themselves with positive people willing to propel them forwards. 

However, I also think the show is about AIDS, and we should embrace it as such. This epidemic is an upsetting yet important part of British history that seems to have been brushed under the carpet. I’ve been in education for so many years now, yet this TV show was the first I learnt about HIV’s history. We need to publicize HIV’s continuing impact in our society, as the real sin is not the disease itself, but rather the stigma attached to it; and it is only by drawing attention to that will we begin to overcome this. 

So get ready for a sexy, fun but heart-breaking drama you won’t soon forget. Davies shows the beauty of friendship and promotes joy at every corner. But most importantly reveals a tragic part of British history that is so often overlooked and ignored. Also… the soundtrack is brilliant! 

Artwork by Eliot Lambert.

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