It’s A Sin is the first TV drama from Russell T Davies since 2019’s Years and Years, which was mostly good, but occasionally slipped a bit.
Davies also wrote some earlier powerful gay dramas in the form of Queer As Folk, 2001’s Bob & Rose – the latter being a considerably toned-down gay drama by comparison, starring Alan Davies and Lesley Sharp, and rarely gets a mention so it seems largely forgotten about, when it really is well worth seeing; and Doctor Who… well, he seemed to forget he was writing sci-fi, but then he can’t write sci-fi to save his life, and just felt compelled to shove in unnecessary dialogue, such as in 2007’s Daleks In Manhattan, when they’re all running around, followed by the rag-tag group including Frank (Andrew Garfield), who had a pig’s head for reasons I don’t care to remember. As David Tennant’s Doctor ran along, he said to one of the women in the group that he could kiss them, and then shoved in, “You too, Frank!”
Fucking Hell, RTD, just stop!
So, to It’s A Sin, given the title of one of Pet Shop Boys’ many and classic No.1 hits, although the first episode opens with OMD’s Enola Gay, but then the series begins in September 1981, with that song already having been out for a year, whilst the PSB song wasn’t around until the summer of 1987.
It centres around the lives of three young men, all from different backgrounds and families, starting with Ritchie (Olly Alexander – lead singer of Years & Years, same as the previous RTD drama but I’m sure that’s entirely coincidental), son of Valerie (Keeley Hawes – Finding Alice) and Clive (Shaun Dooley – The Stranger) – to whom he’ll struggle to come out, who’s moving away to University to find himself, but an initial encounter with the older Ashley (Nathaniel Curtis) may or may not go to plan. Before leaving, though, it’s amusing to see Keeley eager to chuck out all the stuff from his old room as a teenager, yet he doesn’t want them to go anywhere near it, as they’d see his stash of adult magazines!
Add in outgoing builder Roscoe (Omari Douglas), who’s avoiding deportation to Nigeria, and has elders who are upset at his gay lifestyle; plus the shy Colin (Callum Scott Howells), who’s about to start in a posh tailor shop with smarmy Henry Coltrane (Neil Patrick Harris) and the boss, Mr Hart (Nicholas Blane), who gives Colin a hilarious and very obvious come-on, as you’ll discover.
As an aside, Colin takes a room in a house where “no girls are allowed” in his room (not a problem!), and it amused me that he’s told by the landlady that if he makes any calls from the home phone, to not only note the duration, but to state whether it’s before OR after 6pm. Back in the ’80s, calls were always more expensive before 6pm! Since the peak time started at 8am, if it was a weekday, in the ’90s, I had to wait to use the dial-up until the off-peak time began. The ’80s were also a time when you could lock a car door by pressing the lock down before you closed the door, rather than just using the infra red from your key.
It’s A Sin is rather like a successor to Queer As Folk in its subject matter – albeit set almost 20 years earlier, but not groundbreaking in the way that was. Yes, the characters are just learning about AIDS – as that’s entering the public consciousness, although I don’t remember that being talked about until around 1986 with the John Hurt-voice ‘tombstone’ public information film, billed “AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance“. It may well have been discussed elsewhere before that, but since there was no internet, and since I was only 9 in 1981, my focus was on many other things at the time.
However, when it comes to visiting AIDS patients in hospital – as we see one character do in the first episode – you have to wear a large amount of PPE, rather like today, in fact! Well, you can’t actually visit anyone at all, which is a bit shit when you have relatives in there and you can’t see them 🙁
In It’s A Sin, the three young mens’ lives will begin to intertine as the first of the five episodes plays out, and for this first one, it holds your attention, but it could be far more engaging. If you just want sex scenes, then there’s plenty of that, but it’s mostly just the same thing that keeps coming and coming…
I like that it’s filmed in Manchester – same as all the above non-sci-fi shows mentioned above – even though it’s meant to be portraying London, so I just hope the remaining four episodes have more meat on the bones.
UPDATE: I’ve now seen the whole It’s A Sin and it does get better as it goes on. I’ll list a few non-spoiler moments which stood out, and for some of which, I won’t say to whom I’m referring, so as to ensure to avoid spoilers:
- In episode 2, Colin goes on a work trip to New York, but it’s quite clearly Manchester, with a CGI’d backdrop of the Big Apple.
- In episode 3, while Olly and his boyfriend discuss which famous people are gay, the suggestion of Phillip Schofield comes up…
- There’s also a situation where one man contracts AIDS, and a man in authority man unthinkingly tells a relative, “AIDS is transmitted by sex with men. If he chose to be part of that cesspit, well, who am I to judge?”
- In another scene, a man dresses up in black tie get-up, walks through the service entrance of a building, through the kitchen and into the main room… just like Arnie in the opening of True Lies 😉
- For one character called Eileen, another takes it upon themselves to say, “Come on, Eileen”, a la the Dexys Midnight Runners classic.
- As a general observation, do all gay men really all lust after each other, or is it just one of RTD’s fantasies??
- I could see Callum Scott Howells (as Colin) playing a young Steve Coogan if they made such a film or series.
If you’re in the US and want to see this, it’s made in association with HBO Max, so will be available in due course. I don’t know the specific release date over there, but if I find it out, I’ll add it in here. For Australian viewers, it will be on the streaming service Stan from January 23rd.
It’s A Sin is on Channel 4 from Friday January 22nd at 9pm, it will run for five episodes, and after the first episode is broadcast, the entire series will be on All 4.
Episode 1 Score: 6/10
Episode 2 Score: 7/10
Episode 3 Score: 7.5/10
Episode 4 Score: 7.5/10
Episode 5 Score: 8/10
Director: Peter Hoar
Producer: Phil Collinson
Writer: Russell T Davies
Music: Murray Gold
Ritchie Tozer: Olly Alexander
Roscoe Babatunde: Omari Douglas
Colin Morris-Jones: Callum Scott Howells
Jill Baxter: Lydia West
Henry Coltrane: Neil Patrick Harris
Valerie Tozer: Keeley Hawes
Clive Tozer: Shaun Dooley
Gregory Finch: David Carlyle
Ash Mukherjee: Nathaniel Curtis
Carol Carter: Tracy-Ann Oberman
Lucy Tozer: Toto Bruin
Biff: Jake Neads
Oscar Babatunde: Delroy Brown
Rosa Babatunde: Michelle Greenidge
SOlly Babatunde: Shaniqua Okwok
Aunty Bee: Natasha Williams
Uncle Basil: Patrice Naiambana
Mrs McKenzie: Debra Bakermbana
Ross McKenzie: Dan Linney
Mr Hart: Nicholas Blane
Mrs Bowen: Susan Brown
Eileen Morris-Jones: Andria Doherty
Grizzle: Neil Ashton
Female student: Rhian Arnold
Juan Pablo Barros: Tatsu Carvalho
Big Bob: Felipe Bejarano
Maxwell: Michael Mather
Ralph: Ben Addington
Simon: Fraser Fraser
Davey: Tobias Charles
Neighbour: Joan Hodges
Nurse: Lynette Clarke
Millie: Moya Brady
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.