Review | ‘It’s a Sin’ is a brilliant but heartbreaking TV series

It’s a Sin | Streaming on Stan | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Russell T Davies new drama It’s a Sin is a magnificent piece of storytelling that takes the audience on a journey that soars to great heights, before delivering some crushing and emotional blows.

As a writer Davies has an impressive list of credits from his groundbreaking series Queer as Folk to Casanova, Bob and Rose, The Second Coming, Cucumber and Banana, Doctor Who, Years and Years and A Very English Scandal. He is a master storyteller and here he brings to life London’s gay community in the 1980’s and the changes the emergence of HIV makes to the lives of a group of young friends.

We follow a bunch of teenagers taking their first steps out on their own, it’s London in 1981 and the sounds of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love fill the airwaves and dancefloors. Ritchie has moved to the city to study law, leaving behind his home on the Isle of Wright and his conservative parents. Colin has arrived from Wales, living in a boarding house and starting an apprentice on Saville Row, while Roscoe has run away from his family as fast as he could after they suggested sending him away for being too effeminate.

At college Ritchie becomes best friends with Jill, while trying to hook up with her classmate Ash. Soon the five friends have moved into a giant student share house and their lives become intertwined as they form their found family.

Their lives slowly begin to change though as reports of a new disease emerge, a cancer that appears to target gay men. One of the first people affected is Colin’s work colleague. Henry lives with his long term boyfriend Pablo, suddenly both men are ill with doctors unable to determine the cause of their affliction.

Henry is kept in a locked ward, the only patient there, with staff leaving food by the door. He tells Colin that doctors have considered he might have psittacosis, a lung disease that is only found in birds.

We often retell the story of the fight against AIDS as one where the queer community were at the forefront of the battle, and while that’s certainly true, Davies reminds us that we didn’t all get onboard straight away.

We see a gay bar turn away an activist who wants to put flyers about AIDS in the venue, we hear Ritchie spout a conspiracy theory denying the virus even exists, we see young men throw condoms aside failing to hear the call for safe sex, and crackpot ideas on how you can protect yourself.

The series features an impressive cast, including some big names who have signed on for small parts in the high quality series. Olly Alexander, best known as the front man of band Years & Years plays Ritchie, while Lydia West plays college friend Jill. Omari Douglas is Roscoe, Nathaniel Curtis in Ash, and Callum Scott Howells plays the shy and reserved Colin.

Among the more recognisable faces is Neil Patrick Harris who plays Colin’s mentor Henry Coltrane, Stephen Fry as a conservative politician, and Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley who play Ritchie’s parents. There’s also lovely moments from Moya Brady, Nicholas Blane, Tracy Ann Oberman, and the marvelous Ruth Sheen.          

As a writer Davies is unforgiving, this series is designed to make you feel just a little bit of the devastation people in our community experienced daily for so many years.

Love OUTinPerth Campaign

Help support the publication of OUTinPerth by contributing to our
GoFundMe campaign.