It’s a Sin: Review
It’s a Sin has become the topic of much conversation since it was released in January, and it is no doubt a masterpiece. It’s sparked discussions around sex education, representation, the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s (which is its main theme), and the black, gay experience. In fact, its popularity has allowed All4 to have its biggest month ever.
The show follows a group of flatmates in “The Pink Palace”, in London. Ritchie (Olly Alexander), a young gay man from the Isle of Wight, arrives in London to study and meets Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) and Jill (Lydia West). They move in with Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and Colin (Callum Scott Howells), two other gay men. Ash was a personal favourite of mine: the quietest character on the show, he remained somewhat undeveloped, as the focus lay on Roscoe and Ritchie. Some time is taken to show Jill’s interactions with other people, such as Gloria, the gang’s friend who lives alone – however, Jill also remains somewhat undeveloped.
With bags of representation and tear-jerking moments, it is easy to allow showrunner Russell T Davis to neglect some of his characters. Perhaps, we should be happy knowing that Jill exists in order to simply be the best LGBT+ ally the world has ever seen. I have no idea how she manages all her running around: she takes care of Gloria when she takes ill, cooking lasagnes and scrubbing the place down. She asks Colin to find her information on AIDS; she joins a volunteer phoneline to help spread awareness. She’s a saint. The problem is, she is based off a real-life person, who undoubtedly has far more substance to her than the character in the show does.
Not only this, but unlike the real-life Jill, the fictional Jill is played by a black woman. This raises questions for me about the emotional labour we so often demand of black women, and how often, in media, they act as vehicles to further the plot which centres around white men.
While so many people would’ve killed for a friend like Jill, sadly, the show’s short run doesn’t allow us to learn much about her and why she’s literally the nicest human being ever, even when Ritchie is being incredibly flippant about AIDS. Beyond the fact that she has wonderfully supportive parents, we can simply be thankful that people like her did exist, and still do.
In interviews, Russell T Davis has lamented that he wasn’t able to include an exploration of allyship from the lesbian community that was displayed during the height of the AIDS crisis, but there are simply not enough episodes.
While watching this show, I found myself questioning who it was really supposed to be about. When you’re focusing on the story of young, gay men in the AIDS crisis, especially with such fantastic racial representation shown through Ash and Roscoe’s characters at the forefront, perhaps it is asking too much to see more than a single lesbian in the penultimate episode, or to ask for more development on Jill’s behalf.
It’s a Sin is plot driven – it is about an illness which killed thousands of gay men, and destroyed a generation of elders for those in the LGBT+ community to look up to. It doesn’t have time to dive into the history all that much, and so, within the walls of the Pink Palace, the story has to focus on Roscoe, Ritchie, Ash and Colin.
Olly Alexander’s portrayal of Ritchie is mesmerising. At points, he is intensely dislikeable: his ‘live fast, die young’ attitude becomes a little too literal, and shows how ridiculously unfair life was for someone like him. He is incredibly defensive, loud, and brash, and a little confrontational. Ritchie dares anyone to tell him he’s wrong because he’s scared of the vulnerability that being wrong, and being ill with AIDS, could bring him.
He and Ash are perfectly matched – where Ritchie is loud and dares the world to turn its back on him, Ash just about flies under the radar, and displays a poet’s soul. One scene in particular, where he is asked to find and remove any examples of homosexuality from a school’s library thanks to Thatcher’s Section 28 act, sticks with me, even now.
Roscoe, is of course, vibrant and wonderful: our first introduction to him is as he is about to be sent to Nigeria in order to recover from his blatant homosexuality, and when he stalks out of his family home in a crop top, skirt and headdress, he goes from strength to strength, bar-tending and pissing in the prime minister’s tea.
I’ve saved Colin until last – mainly because he made me cry the most. He is a quiet young man who arrives in London to start an apprenticeship for a tailor. In fact, Colin’s true feelings remain a closely guarded thing until the last moment, and though he dies with his mother by his side, his experience speaks to the shame which was rife in the LGBT+ community during the AIDS crisis.
It’s a Sin is essential viewing, and has raised a lot of discussion about the efficacy of sex education in the country: I hope this debate sticks, and we allow this momentum to carry us towards meaningful change. I’d like to make the characters – many based on figures from Davis’ own life – proud, at least.