Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Elegaic: It’s a Sin
Television dynamo Russell T. Davies produced some of the best work of his life earlier this year with the limited series It’s a Sin. In a career as long and lauded as his, that says something.
Davies takes a chapter from his own, personal history in the series, following the lives of a group of friends–mostly queer men–living in London in the early 1980s. At first, the young gays revel in their newfound sexual freedom, even as rumors of a so-called “gay cancer” begin to circulate. Then people start dropping dead, quietly and in the shadows at first. Within a few years though, the entire LGBTQ community is under political assault as HIV claims the lives of scores of gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women.
By now, the story of HIV should be familiar to you, dear reader. It’s a Sin sets itself apart from the slew of other movies and TV shows that deal with the subject by embracing the youthful idealism of its characters. Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas), Colin (Callum Scott Howells), Jill (Lydia West), and their friends have a familiarity to them: these seem like people we could meet today walking down the street. We first revel in their joy and fabulously queer lives before watching them suffer. That makes the pain of it all cut so much deeper.
Various critics have commented on the cautious optimism that Davies often weaves into his stories: Years & Years, Cucumber, Queer as Folk and his stint on Doctor Who all have that quality about them. It’s a Sin breaks with that trope: when it concludes, we’re not filled with hope so much as burning rage: rage at the cold indifference with which society treated the AIDS crisis, rage against the political demagogues that demonized the gay community, rage for the families that abandoned their children to disease, rage over the suffering the community endured. For all the praise heaped on the gay, male leads of the show, it’s Lydia West’s Jill that becomes the backbone of the series. We attribute that to her rich gifts as a performer, and to Davies letting her character articulate that righteous anger in the final scenes of the series.
It’s a Sin ranks alongside Pose and Angels in America as one of the greatest works in TV history to ever confront the AIDS crisis. That owes to a capable cast and, above all, to the power of Davies’ writing. As voices from within the queer world continue to cry out that “Pride is a Protest,” It’s a Sin reminds us why. It’s a potent reminder of the love of a chosen, queer family, the preciousness of life, and of a crisis we must never forget.
Streams on HBO Max.