It’s a sin that this Channel 4 show hasn’t released earlier than the year 2021. Mixing the crackling dialogue of Russell T. Davies with a harrowing, poignant and incredibly well written story, It’s A Sin shines a grim spotlight on the epidemic that plagued the 80’s. Split across five episodes, this mini-series captures a snapshot of what took place between the 80’s and early 90’s as a community was left ravaged and broken.
Much like Davies’ previous familial drama, Years and Years, It’s A Sin builds up a consistent level of dread underneath a central character-driven drama. At the center of all this lies a solitary apartment in London that’s shared by five eclectic characters.
Ritchie Tozer is our “fish out of water”, arriving off the South Coast via his home in the Isle Of Wight for a new future. He has big dreams to become a star and finds himself tumbling head-first into the gay scene.
Joining him there are friends Ash and Jill, the latter of which the only straight member of this close-knit family. Roscoe is the life of the party, flamboyantly brightening every room he steps in with some gorgeous costumes hiding a darker past involving his parents. Rounding out this group is outsider Colin, a shy Welshman who arrives late to the party – quite literally – but soon becomes part of the set-up.
The first episode works to introduce all our characters before the looming threat of the AIDS virus begins to pick up steam. By the latter periods of the story, AIDS is very much central to the story and everything starts to come unraveled for this family, who hit breaking point time and again.
All of this builds up to an absolutely devastating climax that’ll almost certainly have you in tears and absolutely shocked by what transpires. No spoilers here of course but after an initial warm up, this one hits its stride and remains in-form right the way across to the finish line.
Some of this great work is partly thanks to the dialogue and excellent screenwriting. It’s A Sin gets the balance between show and tell absolutely spot on, with some scenes bathed in silence and accompanied by thin slivers of dialogue or an orchestral string segment to heighten the mood.
Interestingly, each episode here is directed by the prolific Peter Hoar but you certainly wouldn’t think so watching this. That’s a credit to Peter of course, but each chapter adopts a slightly different style that keeps the energy level high and the visual cues fresh and exciting.
Episode 2 for example uses fourth wall breaks and lots of neon lights while episode 5 is all about those smooth, one-shot takes to build up tension. This level of technical detail behind the camera translates across to what’s displayed on-screen and really makes this an essential watch.
The characters are incredibly well written too, with every line of dialogue important and tying into the main ideas and themes presented across the series. Given what we’re all facing around the world right now, It’s A Sin somehow feels timelessly relevant and eerily tense as the rising wave of doom eventually washes over and crashes into our characters.
If there’s one big gripe here though it comes from the length of the series. Five episodes, spanning a total of 10 years across the narrative, consequently brushes over a lot of the nuance and grief that could have perhaps been captured a lot more effectively with more episodes.
In a way, this brings back thoughts to BBC’s excellent drama Normal People last year, which used this idea of stretching a narrative out across 12 episodes, allowing for the characters to stew in their emotions.
While this series doesn’t need 12 episodes, it is absolutely screaming out for a solid 8 episode run. The different chapters fly by so quickly you never really get a chance to hold these characters and follow their grief through to acceptance and beyond making the highs and lows raw but not quite as effective as they could be with more time.
Ritchie’s journey to the stage, for example, feels almost too quick, while Roscoe’s family woes are wrapped up neatly near the end of episode 5 without really diving as deeply into this as one could.
Having said all of that though, It’s A Sin is essential TV and bows out, quite literally, with a perfectly bittersweet swan song. The end result is a poignant, heart-wrenching and thought provoking show that perfectly captures the horrors of this nasty disease. This is going to be a tough one to beat for best TV show of the year.