The Reel Review
This HBO Max miniseries from Russell T. Davies (Dr. Who, Queer as Folk, Years and Years) chronicles the AIDS crisis, as experienced by a community of friends in 1980s London. It follows them over ten years, starting in 1981, a time when many young gay men escaped repressive upbringings to experience love and affection freely for the first time in their lives, oblivious to the health nightmare that was coming.
Lydia West (Years and Years) is Jill, the group’s straight friend who is the first to show concern over the mystery illness quietly killing gay men worldwide. As it starts to affect them, the series portrays the denial, fear and misinformation associated with the AIDS epidemic, and the resulting personal shame and discrimination. It is heartbreaking. And for those who didn’t live through the AIDS crisis firsthand, it is a shocking eye opener.
Like he did so well in Years and Years, Davies masterfully illustrates how history affects people on a personal level. He creates realistically imperfect, empathetic characters full of joy and life, making the resulting traumas even more tragic. And he crams an impressive amount of information into his miniseries.
The ensemble cast – in particular, West as the group’s conscience, Olly Alexander (God Help the Girl, Bright Star) as the group’s heart, and Callum Scott Howells as the sweet, good boy from South Wales – give haunting, career best performances. Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry add star power in minor but memorable roles.
The decade’s iconic music connects the episodes of It’s A Sin, the show’s title taken from the popular Pet Shop Boys song. And despite all the tears, the compassionate story brims with humor and optimism. The performance in episode 5 by Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard) as Ritchie’s mom is haunting – one that all parents of gay kids should see. This is one of the most thorough and unflinchingly realistic portraits of life during the AIDS era.
• Russell T. Davies had a hard time getting his series produced. BBC One and ITV both turned it down, scared off by its subject matter and graphic gay sex scenes. Since its release on Channel 4’s All 4 streaming service, It’s a Sin has been viewed 6.5 million times in Britain, the most ever of the channel’s platform.
• Davies based the character of Jill on his lifelong friend, actress Jill Nalder, who lost many friends to AIDS. She plays Jill’s mother in the miniseries.
• Davies made a point of casting all the gay roles in the show with actual gay actors.
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