Series: ‘It’s A Sin’ (Streaming on Lionsgate Play). Duration: Average 47 minutes per episode (five episodes in all).
Director: Peter Hoar. Cast: Olly Alexander, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Keeley Hawes, Shaun Dooley, Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Fry and Gregory Finch.
IANS Rating: ****
The title of this five-episode series may sound moralistic and old-fashioned, but in reality, it is the opposite. The series is a poignant eye-opener that reveals that it is a folly to believe that we live in a utopia where one can lead a hedonistic lifestyle.
Set between 1981 and 1991, during the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in London, the series begins with a kaleidoscopic ensemble approach introducing us to three young lads who come to London to lead a life of their choice.
They are: Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander), a bright but closeted gay student from the Isle of Wight who intends to study law but land up becoming an actor; Roscoe, a typical, self-confident, black twink of Nigerian origin who leaves his home because his family tries to pressurise him with prayers and community shaming; and there is Colin a shy naif from Wales who is in London to start a career in a fancy menswear store.
On the London College campus, Ritchie befriends Jill Baxter (Lydia West) a collegemate studying Arts who clumsily hooks him up with the experienced Ash (Nathaniel Curtis).
All five of them eventually end up as flatmates in London. They become close friends and bond like a family. Living the wildlife – that London offered, they chase their dreams – and explore like-minded people.
The silent killer disease enters the narrative at the margins – through rumours and news clips filtering from America. And everyone has their take on it.
While Jill acknowledges its existence and begins to arm herself with knowledge, Ritchie – brash naïve, and ignorant, is in denial. He argues with her, “He said, she said, they said, always saying something but you wanna know, the truth is, what it really is? AIDs, it is a racket. It is a money-making scheme for drug companies.”
But when “the gay plague” strikes closer home, how their world crumbles form the crux of the narrative.
Most of the characters are carefully crafted and layered. The ace cast is truly phenomenal, they do full justice to the roles they play, making each one of them relatable.
With a taut plot that seamlessly intertwines the lives of the five friends and their near and dear ones, the telling begins on a vibrant, celebratory note of rebellion, promise, and opportunity. But over time, the depiction of the disease’s cruelty, the marginalisation, and the shame the gays experienced during that period becomes brutally moving and heart-wrenching.
There are small moments in the scenes where lines like, “there is something wrong with your skin”, or “don’t touch me, I’m bleeding”, may appear innocuous, but they are certainly loaded, with deep meaning.
In the end, much after you have watched all the episodes, you realise the series occupies your mind space and makes you question; Is it a sin to live a happy, carefree life of one’s choice? Or, is it a sin to let someone die, lonely and unhappy? Whatever your answer, this series certainly gnaws at you.