Sunday, 31 January 2021

What I'm streaming: The Plague before this one

IT'S A SIN

(Channel 4/All4)


A series about the early years of the AIDS crisis would be a hard watch at any time; it’s especially tough while we’re locked down because of Covid. Written by Russell T. Davies, who gave us the taboo-breaking
Queer As Folk twenty years ago, this series has a similar structure: a group of gay friends sharing their lives – and their beds – as the liberation of the 1960s and 70s turns to ashes with the arrival of HIV.

As he did in Queer As Folk, Davies spares us no detail of the rampant promiscuity that turned HIV into a pandemic. He doesn’t show us the bigotry of Evangelicals (mainly but not exclusively in the US) who saw AIDS as God’s wrath upon the citizens of Sodom, except that maybe the series’ title is nod towards the Fundamentalists.

Olly Alexander and Lydia West as Ritchie and Jill
The ensemble acting is faultless, production values are off the scale, the pop soundtrack perfectly selected. The main character is Ritchie (Olly Alexander), a struggling actor, although the key role is that of Jill (Lydia West), “den-mother” to this camp group who offers strong support as her flatmates fall in love and break up and die.

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that someone will die in each of the five episodes: from pneumocystis, KS lesions, CMV, cancers – the grim toll of diseases that harvested men with compromised immune systems. There was a stand-out episode in LA Law when two parents cut their son off from his lover and all his friends and took him home to die. Russell Davies revisits that storyline in the final heartbreaking part of It’s A Sin.

Many of my generation and the one behind us lost people we loved and people we liked during that terrible decade and a half. The grief of those losses will come gruellingly back to us watching this series. Ultimately, medical breakthroughs and human kindness saw us through the age of AIDS. Inshallah, they will also see us defeat Covid.

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