Review: It's A Sin - the pride of Channel 4

Jess Bradbury reviews a show that has received critical praise for its depiction of the HIV/AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, It's a Sin

Jess Bradbury
1st February 2021
Credit: IMDb
A beautifully poignant and tragic series, It’s a Sin wholeheartedly reminds us that joy can be found even in the darkest of times. Some spoilers ahead!

Russell T Davies is no stranger to telling the stories of LGBT communities, his 1999 series Queer as Folk was a huge success when it was first released and so it is no wonder that his new Channel 4 series has gained wide critical acclaim.

These five friends have an unbreakable bond. Credit: IMDb

Beginning in 1981 and finishing ten years later, the drama tells the story of five friends who form an unbreakable bond with one another and move into a shabby flat they dub the Pink Palace. Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander) moves away from his homophobic family in the Isle of Wight to study law in London, but his amusing first meeting of drama students Jill Baxter (Lydia West) and Ash Mukherjee (Nathaniel Curtis) confirm what he’s known all along - that his passion lies in being an actor, not a barrister.

Olly Alexander excels in portraying the high-spirited Ritchie

Roscoe Babatunde’s (Omari Douglas) introduction is spectacularly defiant, as he flees his deeply religious household who threaten to send him back to Nigeria. Colin Morris-Jones’ (Callum Scott Howells) moments are arguably the sweetest, with the reserved Welshman being encouraged by work colleague Henry Coltrane (Neil Patrick Harris) to explore his sexuality.

The ensemble cast creates a charming group, whose feelings of hope and wonder are almost tangible as they settle into London life, and it becomes easy to imagine them as real-life people rather than characters from a drama series. Their appeal comes from the fact that they are so beautifully young and human with relationships that accurately reflect the world.

Olly Alexander has been praised for his performance. Credit: IMDb.

Olly Alexander excels in portraying the high-spirited Ritchie, allowing for a more fragile side of him to be exposed as the story progresses down a dark path. Equally impressive is Lydia West, whose charismatic and tender performance means that by the end of the series you will want someone like Jill in your own life. The brightness and warmth of each character, however, becomes overshadowed by warnings of a mystery illness spreading across the US and the drama instantly becomes bittersweet for the audience.

The representation of HIV and AIDs is a sobering one throughout the series. It seems astonishing as a viewer that so little was known about the virus that had such a calamitous effect, leading to the unlawful locking up of patients in hospitals and even families burning the belongings of their sons who had succumbed to it.

The character’s reactions of disbelief, shame and denial all emphasise how frightening it would have been to experience the epidemic

The character’s reactions to it of disbelief, shame and denial all emphasise how frightening and sorrowful it would have been experiencing the epidemic first hand. It is the sharp focus of the series and the death of characters we want to know more about, such as Harris’ Henry Coltrane, that proves how important it is that this story is told. Based on Russell T Davies own experiences, the show is an extraordinary education on a topic that sadly so little know in-depth about.

It’s a Sin continues on Fridays at 9pm on Channel 4 or the full series is available on All 4.

The trailer for It's a Sin. Credit: HBO Max on YouTube.
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