It’s the early 1980s and three young men — Roscoe (Omari Douglas), Ritchie (Olly Alexander) and Colin (Callum Scott Howells) — embrace the bright lights of London and the freedoms of its gay scene. However, as the decade progresses, so their experiences darken.
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Few writers are as adept at mixing humour and sorrow as Russell T Davies, whose most recent dramas have shown a depth and maturity that pulls you in from the start. This is particularly true of It’s A Sin, arguably the writer’s most accomplished series to date — and one that will have you both laughing and weeping over the course of its five-episode run.
Beginning in the early 1980s, It’s A Sin sees Davies consider the devastation that the AIDS crisis wreaked on a generation, the boys — and they often were only boys — who died in their thousands, the attempts to draw the authorities’ attention to the growing crisis, the ways in which families and friends walked away. More importantly, it is also about those who didn’t hide, the families, both inherited and created, who stood together and asked, “What can we do?”
At the centre of the story are five friends who end up sharing a raucous flat — the Pink Palace. There’s the proudly flamboyant Roscoe (Omari Douglas), who has run, literally, from his strict Nigerian home; shy Colin (Callum Scott Howells) from the Welsh valleys, who has a job as a gentlemen’s fitter at a Savile Row store; earnest Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), a university student; fun-loving Ritchie (Olly Alexander), who jumps off the ferry from the Isle Of Wight determined to seize everything the wider world has to offer, and his new best friend Jill (Lydia West), the only girl in the gang, and something of a Wendy to this gang of not-quite-yet-lost boys.
It’s A Sin is arguably Davies’ masterpiece – an involving, devastating and often very funny piece of TV.
Of the five West, so good in _Years And Years___, and Alexander, the singer with hit electronica band Years & Years (no resemblance in titles intentional) both turn in outstanding performances, with the charismatic Alexander frequently threatening to steal the show. Adept at capturing Ritchie’s playfulness and love of everything life has to offer, he’s also wonderful at the more emotional parts, with a moving speech about the fun that was had and how that’s “what people will forget”, ramming home that these were real people with hopes and dreams and full, complex lives.
Douglas, Scott Howells and Curtis also all have moments in which to shine, while the older cast is strong too, from Neil Patrick Harris as the colleague who shows Colin the possibility of a different life, to Keeley Hawes as Ritchie’s mother Valerie, a tightly wound ball of misery, rage and shame, all bound up in a complex love she can’t untangle.
Most of all, however, this is Davies’ show, full of pin-sharp one-liners and buoyed by an excellent soundtrack including OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, Laura Branigan’s ‘Gloria’ and, of course, Pet Shop Boys’ title track. It’s A Sin is arguably Davies’ masterpiece, a heartfelt series into which he has clearly poured every fibre of his being to create an involving, devastating and often very funny piece of TV. Even at this early stage of 2021, it looks set to be one of the programmes of the year.
The prolific Russell T Davies returns with his best series yet, a moving and entertaining exploration of the 1980s AIDS pandemic, which always remembers the human beings at its heart.