I was 13 when Queer As Folk first burst onto our screens, at the time in the late 90s there was simply nothing else like it on our screens, and for all the flaws and imperfect characters, as I would later grow up to realise, it was a pretty close portrayal of life as a member of LGBTQI community. Written by Russell T Davies, it helped normalise much of the inner struggles I was feeling towards my then blossoming sexuality. But to understand where it is you are going, you first must grapple with the history of what and who has come before.

So now, some 22 years later, Davies has done just that in his new series, It’s A Sin, where he takes the viewer back to 1981. This new series, now streaming on Stan, is nothing short of a compelling, and at times, heart breaking look at the AIDS crisis as it gripped the United Kingdom in the decade following.

We are first introduced to three young gay men Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas), and Colin (Callum Scott Howells), who eventually find each other, and become their own illogical family. Each of these actors give fine performances and endear themselves to the viewer quickly and without apology.

From the outset, as within any drama that is set within the context of the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s, we know what ill fate will fall upon at least one of these characters, yet it makes their demise no easier to witness. Yet what also makes It’s A Sin stand tall, and on its own, and in a mark of great writing, is how the emotion hits, not in the moments you expect but a few seconds later. It creeps up on you, yet refuses to leave when it has.

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 However, it is the character of Jill Baxter (Lydia West) that speaks loudest, staying steadfast throughout the series as she steps in to help her friends in the place of family and the boys’ mothers as they each turn their back on the young men. Throughout the AIDS epidemic, it was so often the women that provided so much care and love, yet so often it is these stories which go untold.  In fact, this character was based on a real-life person Jill Nalder, who herself makes a cameo in the series.

Altogether, it’s an impressive cast and not one single actor lets the ensemble down.

Part of what makes this five-part series so successful is the delicate way in which Davies balances humour on the precipice of heartbreak and anguish, and sometimes in the very same scene. It details the kind of attitudes and behaviours that were formulated in response to the public health messages (see: fear) and what was quickly adopted by broader society at the time. Yet it is those same fears that still prevail within and outside of the LGBTQI community. While decades may have passed since the AIDS epidemic, the stigma felt by those living with HIV today, still hangs over our heads.

All this in a series which deals with an epidemic, at a time when these themes are once again at the forefront of our minds with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 showing no signs of letting up. Though perhaps now, looking back at this period of history, particularly for younger queers, we can do so with a keener sense of empathy and understanding.

A sublime series and nothing short of compelling drama, It’s A Sin is a must watch!

★★★★★

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