Poster for the TV series 'It's A Sin,' depicting the main cast in vibrant 1980s attire, standing together against a backdrop of London. The mood is a mix of exuberance and somber reflection, capturing the dual themes of joy and tragedy.

When a friend first told me about It’s A Sin, I had no idea how profoundly it would resonate with me. Though the series has been around for a while, I only recently found the time to watch it. And what an impact it had. Russell T Davies, known for his masterful storytelling, delivers a poignant and unflinching portrayal of the HIV epidemic of the 1980s. This five-part miniseries isn’t just a piece of television; it’s a powerful narrative that evokes empathy, anger, sadness, and hope.

Set in London, It’s A Sin follows a group of friends navigating life, love, and the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS. The series spans a decade, from 1981 to 1991, capturing the highs of newfound freedoms and the crushing lows of the epidemic’s onset. The narrative focuses on Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas), Colin (Callum Scott Howells), Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), and Jill (Lydia West), each character bringing a unique perspective to the story.

From the outset, the program doesn’t shy away from the vibrant, hedonistic lifestyle of the 80s. The series begins with the excitement and optimism of youth, brimming with dreams and ambitions. The characters are unapologetically themselves, embracing their identities in a society still struggling with acceptance. Davies brilliantly captures the essence of the era, from the fashion and music to the underground gay scene, all painted in vivid, colourful strokes.

However, the shadow of the epidemic soon looms large. The initial whispers about a mysterious disease grow louder, and the reality of HIV/AIDS begins to take hold. The shift in tone is expertly handled, with Davies gradually transitioning from the carefree exuberance of the early episodes to the harrowing, heart-wrenching moments as the disease claims its victims.

While watching, it brought back a flood of memories from my own youth. I was a young teenager living in London and attending boarding school in North Wales—a far cry from the hedonism of the early party scenes depicted in the series. It was a strange time for me. My father, the autocratic bully that he was, harboured racist, bigoted attitudes shaped by his far-right views while serving in the British army.

Life at boarding school was isolating. I was unable to control my bodily functions due to the unending trauma I was exposed to at home with a malignant narcissist. Sitting in my room, listening to the radio, and watching the school unfold from the window sill, I felt a profound loneliness that echoed inside of me—a feeling that summed up much of my childhood, and something which comes to visit me often.

I remember a friend of mine, who popped into my head while watching this phenomenal series. He was gay, very gay, and a black boy with hair like Michael Jackson. We were good friends, and he had these sick dance moves. Me dancing next to him was like a couple of canal boats on the ends of my feet trying to keep pace. It was very ugly. I brought him around for supper after school. I remember my mother whispering from the hallway, ‘He’s black, and one of those, you know, gays.’ I heard my father gag. If I had heard, so must have Tom (not his real name, but it couldn’t be further from the truth of what his real name was).

After Tom had left, I went upstairs to the sound of my father spraying air freshener in the front room. His voice still echoes in my head: ‘He will probably be dead before the year’s out,’ referring to the burgeoning AIDS epidemic sweeping the streets. There were many times my father said things, and as a child, I was completely opposed to his quite frankly insane views. The memory of this is bittersweet—my fondness for my friend and the realisation that the stereotypical attitudes of the times were right in my face, personified by my father.

One of the most striking aspects of  the series is its unflinching portrayal of the stigma and misinformation surrounding HIV/AIDS. The fear and ignorance that permeated society during the 80s are brought to the forefront, highlighting the cruel and often inhumane treatment faced by those affected. The series doesn’t just focus on the physical toll of the disease but delves deep into the emotional and psychological impacts. The characters’ struggles with shame, isolation, and the desperate search for answers are portrayed with a raw honesty that is both devastating and illuminating.

The performances are nothing short of exceptional. Olly Alexander’s portrayal of Ritchie is a standout, capturing the character’s transformation from a confident, aspiring actor to a man grappling with the harsh realities of the epidemic. His performance is nuanced, bringing both charm and vulnerability to the role. Lydia West’s Jill is the heart of the series, embodying the compassion, resilience, and unwavering support that defines true friendship. The chemistry among the cast is palpable, making their collective journey all the more affecting.

Davies’ writing is as sharp and insightful as ever. He crafts a narrative that is both deeply personal and universally resonant. The dialogue is rich with authenticity, balancing moments of levity and humour with the weight of the tragedy unfolding. The series also benefits from a fantastic soundtrack, featuring iconic tracks from the 80s that enhance the storytelling and evoke a powerful sense of nostalgia.

It’s A Sin is not just a series about the past; it’s a poignant reminder of the present. The parallels between the HIV/AIDS crisis and the ongoing battles with public health issues are unmistakable. The series calls for empathy, understanding, and action, urging viewers to reflect on how far we’ve come and how much further we need to go in terms of acceptance and support for those affected by such crises.

The program is a triumph of television. It’s a deeply moving, thought-provoking, and ultimately human story that shines a light on a period often overshadowed by misunderstanding and prejudice. Davies has created a series that is as much about the strength of the human spirit as it is about the tragic loss of life. It’s a series that will stay with you long after the credits roll, a testament to the power of storytelling and its ability to evoke change. If you watch one series this year, make it It’s A Sin – it’s not just a sin to miss it, it’s a profound disservice to the countless lives it honours.

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