• Emily Coogan

Review: It’s a Sin, lost timelines of grief and joy ★★★★★

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Aside from evoking a vibrant nostalgia, It’s A Sin is an intimate and accessible look into the HIV/AIDS epidemic during 1980s London. The show chronicles a group of gay men and their friends as they experience newfound liberation in cosmopolitan London. Despite whispers of a ‘gay cancer’ threatening to dampen their dalliances, the characters are determined to continue life as normal, following their ambitions in the Big Smoke. The show spans a decade of misinformation, fear, and devastation, proving to be a revolutionary depiction of an especially harrowing chapter in queer history.

The five-part drama serial was written by Russell T Davies, the brain behind Years & Years, Queer As Folk, and the reboot of Doctor Who in 2005. Davies’ creation has received plaudits from the LGBTQ+ community, including from Sir Elton John himself. If that’s not reason enough to engage with the show, I don’t know what is.

The cast includes faces we know and love, such as Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris, and faces new to our screens, including Omari Douglas and musician Olly Alexander. Davies exclusively cast gay actors in lead roles, enhancing the authenticity of the show.

It’s A Sin is a story untold, and the audience is transported to a reality that is all too recent. It serves as a potent reminder that history includes a human toll, rather than mere faceless statistics. Scenes of diverse self-expression are steamrolled by a virus that was largely ignored by the general public.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic disproportionately affected the gay community at a time when anti-gay sentiment was rife, meaning it was disregarded and now occupies little space in the history books. The illness was initially referred to as a ‘homosexual disorder’ or ‘GRID’ (gay-related immune deficiency), and mass confusion of the time was pedalled by stigma and shame. Even within the gay community, the virus was trivialised due to denial and internalised shame. In this regard, the series is not just history, as homophobia is far from defunct and stigma is still attached to a positive HIV status.

The show caused an upsurge in HIV testing across the UK, serving as a reminder that 38 million people live with the condition worldwide. A HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, but a chronic manageable illness that can affect anybody, regardless of gender and sexuality.

It’s A Sin is seriously watchable, despite tackling deeply upsetting subject matter. Davies honours the battle scars still present within the community to a soundtrack of queer anthems and 80s hits, and the result is powerful.