There’s never any doubt about the tone of the title of Russell T Davies’ latest series; it positively drips with irony. It’s a Sin takes us back to the days when homosexual acts were widely regarded a sinful by the religious and disgusting by most other people, a time when sex between men might not be criminal but was certainly beyond the pale; a time when men were ostracised by their families, beaten up by strangers, sacked from jobs and, if they were unlucky enough to contract AIDS, isolated and left to die alone. The human side of this story is told very touchingly as two of the five friends who converge on London and end up sharing a flat together contract the illness and die. But it’s not just a sob-fest; the first episode is joyous and celebratory as Colin, Ritchie and Roscoe find themselves in a milieu where for the first time in their lives they can fully express themselves. Colin comes from a traditional family in Welsh Wales (though his mother turns out to be far more sympathetic than you’d expect) Roscoe has it even worse as at the beginning of the series his Nigerian family are planning to kidnap him and take him ‘home’ to be ‘cured,’ and Ritchie escapes from his traditional home town on the Isle of Wight to study accountancy. They meet two other friends, Jill and Ash and end up sharing a house together. Each of them finds a more accepting family in this household of friends and begins to pursue their own path; Colin, being sacked from a firm of tailors for refusing to sleep with the boss, finds joy in working in a print shop but is quickly struck down by this (then) mystery illness; Roscoe wears make-up and flamboyant clothes and works in a bar, but Ritchie’s is perhaps the most dramatic journey of all. He quickly switches from accountancy to drama (to the disgust of his parents) and sets about having a lot of very graphic sex. But when he contracts AIDS his shame is so great that he hides it and carries on sleeping with men, until he gets too ill to carry on. The last episode deals with his parents’ response to this and in the final scene there’s a stand-off between his mother (Keeley Hawes) and his friend Jill, played by Lydia West.
It was a very affecting watch, not least because it reminded us (those of us old enough to remember) what things were like in those days. It seems almost incomprehensible now that what is merely a variant form of love can be so stigmatised, but so it is. I have a slight beef about the ending, which I found a tad moralising – Jill giving Ritchie’s mother a hard time about her attitudes – nonetheless I highly recommend it. The early episodes have something of the celebratory feel of the Small Axe film Lovers Dancing, and the period is wonderfully evoked. It also made me think of Diana and how she helped to change attitudes by hugging men dying of AIDS and sitting with them when no-one else would.
It’s also interesting to speculate about what goes on behind the scenes: apparently Olly Alexander who plays Ritchie is tipped to be the next Dr Who, a series Russell T Davies is also involved in. Another interesting fact is that the Keeley Hawes character seemed very similar to her character in Finding Alice: mercurial, unpredictable, at times unstable, irrational and highly watchable. Could there be a connection?
And that was that; another box set bites the dust. I’m still working through Sherlock – purely for research purposes, of course – and I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from that series. Sherlock has just given Lestrade and Watson the low-down on a murder victim.
Sherlock: (dismissively) Meretricious.
Lestrade: And a Happy New Year.
And the same to you, dear reader: at least we’re into February which means that the interminable month of January is over. As the rhyme says: Thirty days hath September, April June and November, all the rest have thirty-one, excepting February alone – and January, which has six thousand, two hundred and twenty four.’