By Katherine Wheeler
If you’re looking for a sign to start watching It’s a Sin, this is it. You’ve probably already seen the trailers, this show is everywhere- and everything. It covers every genre from comedy to tragedy, from romance to bleak, creeping horror. The truth is, Russell T Davies’ new show is one of the most important pieces of television I’ve ever seen.
It’s a Sin follows a group of friends in the London gay community, the Pink Palace gang, through 10 years of their life from 1981 to 1991 as the AIDs outbreak became an epidemic. Despite knowing now how catastrophic the disease was, I found myself astonished and appalled at how those infected were treated. Something that should have been common knowledge to me was instead, a shock.
At first, I was skeptical about the cast. The recognisable faces in the line up are given little screen time, but to good effect. This drama doesn’t need to pull its weight in star power because the sheer energy of the main cast is a triumph. To single out a single show-stopping performance would be akin to blasphemy but there is one actor I think we’ll see on screen a lot more in the future, Lydia West. West plays Jill, the Pink Palace’s powerhouse, who is the glue of the whole group. It is Jill’s quiet stoicism throughout that makes the viewer fall apart when tragedy inevitably strikes. Her care for the people around her and the wider gay community are genuinely heartwarming to see, knowing in 2021 the shocking ignorance and stigma still surrounds AIDs.
Jill’s best friend Ritchie (Olly Alexander) is, debatably, the main character but you get a strong sense of each Pink Palace’s lives and affections as if each one were leading the show. My favourite to watch was Colin (Callum Scott Howells), a shy boy from The Valleys who moves to the big city for an adventure. In the first episode, we see Colin being taken under the wing of Mr Coltrane (Neil Patrick Harris). It’s a short but brilliant scene when the two sit down together- both men living quietly as gay, talking and supporting each other.
Aside from the plot, the other standout feature is the show’s soundtrack. I wasn’t around in the eighties, far from it, but hearing some of the tracks did make me feel like I was in a club. The accompanying tracks are mostly gay club classics, ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer, ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ by Belinda Carlisle and the title track ‘It’s a Sin’ by the Pet Shop Boys.
There’s also the way Davies plays with expectation, he isn’t afraid of breaking the fourth wall nor dropping bombshells with no warning that leave you rewinding again and again to see that yes, he really just did that. Ritchie interrogates the audience: ‘do you seriously think there’s an illness that only kills gay men?’, ‘It’s a money making scheme… imagine it, gay cancer!’, a montage of shots flash across the screen later contrasted with a funeral.
The only moment the magic slips a little bit is the appearance of Margaret Thatcher, only her wig and trademark blue coat are visible but it’s enough to snap you out of the action for a minute.
If you’re not watching It’s A Sin, then be prepared to be pestered into it by your friends because this show really is nothing short of a triumph.