Let's talk: It's A Sin
Updated: Feb 13
(contains small spoilers)
It's been almost a week since I finished It's A Sin and somehow the aftermath still lingers on. Likely as it seems with the whole series being on All 4 (biggest ever box set binge and drama launch, @Channel 4 Press) audiences across the nation are reaching its conclusion on their own schedule.
Since the punchy and dynamic trailer premiered in the weeks running up to Christmas 2020, it's been on my watch list to start as soon as available. I thought about forcing myself to watch the weekly episode on Friday nights, but after the first watch that was evidently not going to be possible.
Written by Queer as Folk writer and former Doctor Who Showrunner Russell T Davies, the show focuses on five twenty-somethings living in London in the early 1980s. For many of the characters this is a new lease of life, allowing them to be their true authentic selves after years of oppression and secrecy in their family set-ups. Then the news circulates about an unknown disease affecting gay men and their world starts to change.
The vibrancy and genuine closeness of the main group of friends makes the audience feel part of the gang. You have a place at the kitchen table of The Pink Palace when Colin becomes a flatmate at one of the many, many parties, and when Ritchie proclaims his denial of AIDS very existence. And then as the numbers begin to dwindle around the table, you feel it's emptiness along with the last few members. The acceptance in the group means the losses feel as magnanimous as if you were there.
Davies says he noted that whilst the politics surrounding the HIV crisis during that time has been told and shared through different mediums, the stories of the early victims had not. If watching Davies' most recent show Years and Years had taught me anything, it was to brace for the emotional punches. Yet it was almost as if nothing could have prepared for the finale, even though on hindsight it was glaringly inevitable.
"He died yesterday."
Three words that felt as if the air had been pulled out of me. Delivered with such devastating intent by Keeley Hawes, it would be a travesty if she's not recognised for her part in the series. I can't remember feeling quite so angry or stunned at the end of a series in such a long time.
What struck most was that the act of going home for these men, became their death sentence. Home normally means going back to where you belong. This couldn't have been further from the truth for the victims. Along with suffering from the physical effects of the disease, they were stripped of their identity in their final moments due to shame and fear. The word heartbreaking meant in sincerity, not with one ounce of melodrama.
Watch and then watch again. It's an education you won't get in school.
There's been wide coverage following the release of the show, both in the press and also from HIV organisations sharing the stats on living with AIDS today. All linked below.
"Loss and anger raged in me after watching It’s a Sin – the stigma we faced in the 1980s is now being directed at trans people" The Independent
"It's A Sin: HIV diagnosis at 16 was like 'a wake-up call'"BBC News
"Why It's a Sin's groundbreaking sex scenes are more important than you realise" Digital Spy
Terrence Higgins Trust UK's leading HIV and sexual health charity website
Russel T Davies on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4