The miniseries It’s A Sin casts an important light on the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and shows how far we have come in managing the illness. Spoilers ahead.
From the creator of Queer As Folk, Years and Years as well as the revival of Doctor Who, Russell T Davies does not disappoint with It’s A Sin. Viewers fall in love with the main characters from the very first episode.
Colin (played by Callum Scott Howells) moves to London from Wales, where he starts working at a tailor. He is incredibly shy and has yet to explore his sexuality. Roscoe (Omari Douglas) is an expressive and loud gay man from a traditional Nigerian family. He exudes confidence and fun. Jill (Lydia West) is the mum of the group, she is incredibly loving and supportive. Ritchie (Olly Alexander) moves to London from the Isle of Wight, and not only does he leave his family behind, but also the shame of being gay. He doesn’t waste any time exploring his sexuality once he has this freedom. They are all excited for the next chapter of their lives, and viewers find themselves sharing that excitement as well.
The impact of fear
However, from the very first episode the fatal effects of AIDS are shown. When Colin spends more time with a gay colleague and his partner, the couple’s health rapidly deteriorates until they both die in hospital.
The epidemic does not affect the group immediately, and so it is easy for them to initially brush it off and ignore it. It’s not until an old friend contracts the illness and goes into hiding that Jill looks into it more and starts taking it seriously. At this point (episode two), there is a lot of misinformation and uncertainty about HIV and AIDS. The public are not entirely sure how it is spread or why it only affects gay men. The media jumps on this rhetoric and it creates a stigma towards gay men, making it easy for homophobia to be justified. Personal and offensive questions are included in mortgage applications and medical check ups, designed to isolate anyone who isn’t heterosexual.
When denial is no longer possible
Everything changes from the third episode. At this point, Colin has been fired from his apprenticeship at the tailor and starts working at a print shop. His health suddenly deteriorates, as if from nowhere. Viewers eventually find out he had one sexual encounter when he first moved to London and this progressed to AIDS. His mum and his friends watch in horror as the illness causes serious neurological symptoms and the hospital staff treat him like a caged zoo animal. Colin’s death is a wakeup call for everyone, and each of the men get tested.
The last two episodes focus on Ritchie and his family. Up until this point, Ritchie has put the epidemic to the back of his mind. Instead, he focuses on his acting career and enjoying his sex life with different partners. However, once things start getting serious with someone, Ritchie begins to realise that he can’t run away from the illness. Once it’s confirmed he has AIDS, he believes he can beat it. It’s not until he sees his parents and comes clean to them that reality kicks in. He returns to the Isle of Wight and spends his final days in his childhood home. The way Ritchie’s parents respond and react is a clear example of the way shame and denial can manifest. By the time they understand their son, his sexuality and his friends, it’s too late.
Look how far we have come
It’s A Sin has everything one would need in order to understand the crisis at that time. By following four friends who try and progress their careers, their relationships and their dreams, viewers can see how they each cope with such a ruthless illness. It balances the fun of friends living together, going out, meeting new people and coming of age with the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic. It has come at a time when we can reflect on the millions who lost their lives around the world and how far we have come in managing and treating HIV. On social media, people have been celebrating the Jills in their lives and showing us that testing positive for HIV is not a death wish (as long as it is being treated).
Overall, it is Channel 4’s highest rated show and the response from viewers has been nothing but positive. My only criticism is that there are only five episodes, I wish it was longer.