TV Review: It’s A Sin (2021)

If you watch one show in the whole of this year, make it this one. Because this will not be beaten.

I think I’ve cried at two TV shows in my life. What can I say, I’m a cold-hearted bitch. But It’s A Sin left me in tears twice. It’s so raw, it’s so hitting. It’s so empathetic, and it could only have been written by someone who has lived through the HIV and Aids crisis since the 1980s (the incredible, as always, Russell T Davies). This review does contain spoilers so… read ahead at your own risk.

Where is there to start? The casting choices and acting is in point. Olly Alexander as Richie Tozer is inspired. A young actor, who switches from studying law after a term at university in London, much to the dismay of his doting parents Valerie and Clive, and embarks on what would now be called a ho phase. We’ve all been there. Roscoe, played by Omari Douglas, escapes his homophobic family in a dramatic exit including drag and a rainstorm. Colin, possibly the character I loved the most, bought to life by Callum Scott Howells, moves to London from Wales for an apprenticeship. Ash Mukherjee (Nathaniel Curtis) and Jill Baxter (Lydia West)… I can’t remember their own backstories, but they blossom into brilliant characters, with simply incredible performances throughout the show.

Keeley Hawes doesn’t feature much until the final episode, but her performance as Ritchie’s mum Valerie here is possibly the best piece of acting I’ve seen in my life. That’s no exaggeration. The way she switches between anger, confusion, realisation, denial, frustration, sadness, hatred, grief, heartbreak, it’s incredible. There’s a scene in the hospital when she finds out that her son has been diagnosed with AIDS and it’s a case of when and not if … I don’t think I breathed for a full five minutes watching her show-stopping performance.

The stories told are so touching and well-considered. I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere (if RTD reads this (he won’t), maybe he could clarify either way) but many of them feel as if they’ve been written from personal experience. Every episode was emotionally exhausting to watch, but none more so than episode three, where dear Colin gets promoted at work, begins to have seizures and finishes the episode dead in a hospital bed, with a montage featuring the only boy he ever slept with. But part of what made this show so incredible was the funnier moments, and one of those (which at the same time was truly heartbreaking) was when Colin, near the end, tells Ritchie in very certain terms that he was the boy he had truly loved, before… well… I’m not going to spell out what he very publicly does, but I was CACKLING.

The poignant blend of devastation and hilarity was what made this show even tougher to watch. You truly love the characters, and their tragedy hits even harder when you see their highs and lows. They become people, not just characters. Jill, Ritchie’s best friend, sees everyone around her suffer, and she wants answers. And then she tries to help. Her final scene is of her visiting another patient who she’s been told hasn’t had any visitors, and who refuses to see anyone. But just her sitting with him, and talking to him, makes him brighten up a little bit, and that also made me cry. Jill was inspired by a woman in real life – Jill Nalder – and she actually plays the fictional Jill’s mum in a special cameo.

Everything about this show has been thought about – the soundtrack is absolutely banging – and although it’s about a struggle which happened thirty years ago, it’s still relevant now. 100,000 people in the UK are estimated to have undiagnosed HIV, and know nothing about it. This could be TMI, and I apologise if it is, but as soon as I finished the final episode I ordered an STI test – I’ve never done one before, and I have no symptoms of anything, but I know I need to be more responsible once I can live life fully once again. And it’s a testament to how incredible It’s A Sin really is. It didn’t need to tell me to get a test, it doesn’t tell you to be responsible. But through everything that is within this four hour masterpiece, you just know what to do.

In twenty years time, this show will be looked back at with admiration. We must never forget everyone who has died of this horrific disease, and the fight continues to find better medication, to try to find a cure. This is one of the greatest TV shows to ever be written. But one final warning – there’s quite a few sex scenes, so this might not be one to watch with your parents 😉.

‘It’s A Sin’ airs weekly on Friday nights at 9pm on Channel 4. The first episode aired on January 22nd, and all five episodes are available on All4 for free now. In the US, you’ll be getting it on HBO Max from February 18th!

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