It's a Sin (TV series)

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It's a Sin
It's a Sin.jpg
GenreDrama
Created byRussell T Davies
Written byRussell T Davies
Directed byPeter Hoar
Starring
ComposerMurray Gold[1][2]
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes5
Production
Executive producers
ProducerPhil Collinson
Production companyRed Production Company
Release
Original networkChannel 4
Original release22 January (2021-01-22) –
19 February 2021 (2021-02-19)

It's a Sin is a British television drama miniseries written and created by Russell T Davies and developed by Red Production Company. The five-part series is set from 1981 to 1991 in London. It depicts the lives of a group of gay men and their friends who lived during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United Kingdom. It's a Sin features a main cast consisting of Olly Alexander as Ritchie Tozer, Omari Douglas as Roscoe Babatunde and Callum Scott Howells as Colin Morris-Jones, who all move to London. Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis and David Carlyle play the characters of Jill Baxter, Ash Mukherjee and Gregory Finch respectively. Together they form the ensemble which the show focuses on most. Other actors cast were Keeley Hawes, Shaun Dooley, Tracy Ann Oberman, Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry. It premiered in the United Kingdom on Channel 4 on 22 January 2021.

The show's subject matter of HIV and AIDS was difficult to sell to broadcasters. BBC One and ITV declined to develop the series and Channel 4 only took it on after their commissioning editor of drama, Lee Mason, fought for it. The show was then shortened from eight planned episodes to five and principal photography commenced in Manchester on 7 October 2019. Despite its London setting, It's a Sin was filmed mainly in Manchester with other locations used in Liverpool, Bolton, Eccles, Bangor, and Rhos-on-Sea. The series was executive produced by Davies and Nicola Shindler. Phil Collinson was hired as the show's producer and Peter Hoar as executive producer and director.

The show received critical acclaim for its emotional scenes, writing and depiction of AIDS; the cast performances were also met with widely positive reviews. All episodes were released to the broadcaster's online streaming service All 4. After a few weeks, it was viewed in its entirety more than 6.5 million times; making it the most binge-watched show to stream on the platform. The first episode also became Channel 4's biggest drama launch. The show also created an upsurge in HIV testing.

Premise[edit]

The series follows a group of gay men who move to London in 1981. They form a friendship group but the fast developing HIV/AIDS crisis in the United Kingdom impacts their lives. Over five episodes the group are shown living through an entire decade until 1991, as they become determined to live fiercely despite the threat HIV poses to them.[3][4]

Cast and characters[edit]

Episodes[edit]

No.TitleDirected by [8]Written by [8]Original air dateUK viewers
(millions)
1"Episode 1"Peter HoarRussell T Davies22 January 2021 (2021-01-22)5.02[11]
September 1981. The lives of five friends converge in a flat together in London. Roscoe runs away from home when he learns his religious father intends to take him back to Nigeria. Ritchie Tozer, who has not come out to his parents, pursues his dreams of being an actor with his friend Jill. Colin begins a sales apprenticeship at a Savile Row tailor, where he is befriended by Henry Coltrane. Coltrane and his partner mysteriously fall ill and die of rare cancers.[9][10]
2"Episode 2"Peter HoarRussell T Davies29 January 2021 (2021-01-29)5.11[11]
December 1983. Despite education outreach by AIDS activists, Ritchie remains in denial and spreads conspiracy theories and AIDS denialism. An old friend, Gregory (known as Gloria), hides after falling ill and asks Jill to secretly buy his groceries. Jill struggles as she worries the illness is infectious and starts to over clean and sanitise. Gloria's illness gets worse and his hostile family brings him back to Glasgow, where he soon dies. Colin is sexually harassed by his boss on a trip to New York and is subsequently fired after his boss sees publications on AIDS that Jill had requested and fears he could have the disease. Jill tries but fails to get the men to realise the risks of casual sex.[12][13]
3"Episode 3"Peter HoarRussell T Davies5 February 2021 (2021-02-05)5.26[11]
March 1986. Colin is now working at a print shop and volunteers as an AIDS activist along with Jill. Ritchie begins a relationship with another actor but is forced to confront the reality of AIDS. Colin is diagnosed with AIDS and is detained in a hospital under the Public Health Act, 1984. His mother and friends watch in horror as he suffers rare neurological symptoms caused by progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. A one-night stand leads Roscoe to a profitable relationship with a closeted Conservative MP. With the help of a lawyer, Colin is released from the Welsh hospital and brought to London to be cared for on a unit where many other men are suffering from AIDS. Ritchie, Jill, Ash and Roscoe visit Colin, but his condition worsens and he dies. Everyone is heartbroken by the loss and it prompts those who were close to Colin to take the HIV test.
4"Episode 4"Peter HoarRussell T Davies12 February 2021 (2021-02-12)5.84[11]

March 1988. Ritchie is diagnosed with AIDS and goes home to the Isle of Wight where he struggles to confide in his family. He speaks with an old friend and decides to return to London, vowing to fight the disease. Ash is ordered to censor the school library to comply with new rules forbidding public institutions from informing children about homosexuality under Section 28. Roscoe takes a personal stand against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as protests begin against pharmaceutical companies who are profiting off the disease.

Ritchie appears as a future soldier in a fictional Doctor Who episode titled "Regression of the Daleks" and features him filming a scene of him fighting Daleks.
5"Episode 5"Peter HoarRussell T Davies19 February 2021 (2021-02-19)6.10[11]
November 1991. Ritchie's condition worsens and other friends continue to die. Ritchie dreams of returning to the stage and insists on chemotherapy when he is diagnosed with lymphoma. Ash and Ritchie confess their feelings for each other, and Ritchie's parents finally discover the truth and take him home to the Isle of Wight. Jill and Roscoe follow, but are denied the opportunity to say goodbye to Ritchie before he dies. Jill confronts Ritchie's mother for making him live in shame. After heading back to London, Roscoe goes home to see his parents and Jill visits the hospital to support a lonely man dying from AIDS. The ending shows a flashback to Ritchie and his friends enjoying their time together, before the AIDS pandemic hit.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

It's a Sin was written and developed by Russell T Davies.

Davies' plans to write a series depicting gay life during the 1980s and the UK AIDS crisis were based on his own and his friends' experiences, and to commemorate the generation who lost their lives to the illness.[14] Davies first publicised these plans in January 2015,[14] telling Ben Dowell from Radio Times in 2016 that it was "the most research-based piece I will ever do".[15] Davies has claimed that the script was initially difficult to pitch to broadcasters due to the "tough" subject matter. Davies recalls being asked by a producer to start the show on an AIDS ward in the 90s, then flashing back to the 80s. He refused the idea calling it 'unbelievably crass'.[16] Davies spent a year trying to secure a deal, with two broadcasters declining to commission the show.[3] It was originally pitched to Davies' first choice, Channel 4, but they declined to commission it.[3] BBC One was then offered the series but they too declined, and ITV decided that they were not ready to broadcast such a series.[3] Channel 4's Commissioning Editor of Drama, Lee Mason, had originally wanted his network to commission the show. He waited for a significant staff change before successfully pitching the idea.[3] Davies originally envisaged the show as an eight-part drama; Channel 4 requested that it be limited to four episodes, and Davies was able to negotiate five.[3]

On 22 August 2018 at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Channel 4's commission of Davies' script was announced. The show was still titled The Boys and it was confirmed that production would commence in 2019.[17] Davies developed the series with Nicola Shindler, who served as Executive Producer and had the assistance of her Red Production Company.[18] Phil Collinson was hired as the show's producer and Peter Hoar as a director.[19] Murray Gold was hired to create the music score for the series.[1] In early 2020, it was revealed that the show was tentatively titled Boys instead of The Boys as previously reported.[20] The original working title was then changed because it was too similar to the Amazon series The Boys.[21] In the fourth episode, Ritchie Tozer appears in a fictional 1988 Doctor Who episode as a tribute to Dursley McLinden, a mutual friend of Jill Nalder and Davies, who appeared in Remembrance of the Daleks.[22]

Casting[edit]

The majority of the show's casting was announced in October 2019.[23] Olly Alexander, a vocalist from the band Years & Years was cast as Ritchie Tozer. His character is a gay teenager who moves to London in 1981 during the early days of the crisis.[24] In his television debut, Omari Douglas was cast as Roscoe Babatunde, a man from a Nigerian family who disown him because of his sexuality.[25] Welsh actor Callum Scott Howells was cast in his first television role playing Colin Morris-Jones, a gay man from Wales.[26] Lydia West plays Jill Baxter in the series. She would regularly host 1980s themed gatherings to help the cast cope with the show's emotional subject.[27] Nathaniel Curtis successfully auditioned for the part of Ash Mukherjee. He was working in theatre when he first discovered the role and said he "instantly fell in love" with the script.[28] David Carlyle plays Gregory Finch, a "vibrant" and "naughty" character who works as a bus conductor.[29]

American actor Neil Patrick Harris plays Henry Coltrane, a character who dies from AIDS in the first episode. The actor said he was pleased with his casting and "incredibly proud" to appear in the series.[30][23] Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley signed up to play Ritchie's parents Valerie and Clive Tozer.[23] Stephen Fry was cast as Arthur Garrison, a Conservative MP who refuses to acknowledge his homosexuality. Fry was keen to appear in the series because he believed it paid tribute to friends that died of HIV.[31] Producers cast Nathaniel Hall as Donald Bassett. Hall plays an HIV-positive character and is himself HIV-positive.[32] Other castings included Andria Doherty as Eileen Morris-Jones and Tracy Ann Oberman as Carol Carter, an acting agent who signs up Ritchie.[33][34]

It's a Sin's cast includes a number of openly gay and queer performers including Alexander, Fry, Harris, Howells, Hall and Carlyle. This casting was intentional; Davies stated "for my one programme, for these five hours, I wanted to create a safe space where gay actors could voluntarily come in and be themselves."[35][32][29] Certain characters were influenced by Davies' real-life friends. West's character, Jill Baxter, is "very loosely" based on Davies' friend Jill Nalder, who appears in the show as Baxter's mother.[36]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began in Manchester on 7 October 2019.[37][38] Red Production Company went into partnership with Screen Manchester to accommodate filming. Bobby Cochrane, development manager at Screen Manchester told Adam Maidment from the Manchester Evening News that "we worked very closely with the production on their various filming applications across Manchester."[39] It's a Sin is set in 1980s England and to reflect the times a series of period props were introduced to outdoor filming locations. Manchester transport officials helped the production gain necessary control over specific areas.[39] Filming took place at Paton Street, Victoria Baths, The Embassy Club on Rochdale Road, The Star and Garter, the Thirsty Scholar on New Wakefield Street and Manchester Crematorium on Barlow Moor Road.[39] Additional filming then took place at a shopping centre in Eccles, a residential street in Heaton Moor and Le Mans Crescent in Bolton.[39]

Filming took place in the city centre of Liverpool in January 2020. The location shoot commenced on Water Street for scenes which appeared as New York City in the show.[40] The street was closed to the public and rows of yellow taxis were parked in the street. In addition vintage cars and a New York-style hot dog cart were placed at the scene.[40] Filming at the Cunard Building on Brunswick Street doubled as a London hotel. A series of 2D and CG VFX techniques were used to add to the location's authenticity.[40] Additional interiors were filmed at the Old Wentworth High School in Eccles. Hospital scenes featured in the show were filmed at this location.[41] Filming also took place in Rhos-on-Sea, Wales, which doubled for the Isle of Wight.[42] Scenes featuring a beach and pier were filmed in the Welsh city of Bangor.[43][44] Filming concluded on 31 January 2020.[45]

Release[edit]

A first-look image was released on 14 January 2020, via a press release given to those in attendance at a Channel 4 press event.[20] The series was originally scheduled for a 2020 release.[20] On 2 October 2020, Channel 4 released the first official teaser trailer and with a statement that it would be broadcast in 2021.[46] On 17 December 2020, a full trailer was released.[47]

In Ireland and the UK, the series premiered on 22 January 2021 on Channel 4. Shortly after the broadcast of the first episode, all episodes were available to stream for free on Channel 4's on-demand streaming service, All 4.[48] Coinciding with the broadcast, Alexander's band Years & Years released a cover of the song "It's a Sin", which was originally performed by the Pet Shop Boys. The release, used to promote the series was also used to raise money for the George House Trust, a charity supporting those living with HIV.[49] It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on 22 February 2021.[50]

It was announced in December 2019 that HBO Max had joined the production and acquired the US rights.[51] It was released in the United States as an HBO Max Original on 18 February 2021.[52][53][54]

Red Production Company partnered with All3Media for international distribution of It's a Sin.[18] In Australia it was released on the streaming service Stan on 23 January 2021[55][56] as well as TVNZ in New Zealand.[57] Amazon Prime Video acquired the rights to stream in Canada and aired on Canal+ in France.[57] Other countries the drama has been distributed to include South Korea on its streaming service Watcha Play, Nederlandse Publieke Omroep in Netherlands, RTBF in French-speaking Belgium, Canvas in Flemish Belgium and Amedia in Russia.[58] In Greece, the series was shown back to back on Cosmote TV on 21 March and is also available watch on-demand via their platform.

Reception[edit]

Ratings[edit]

The first episode was watched live by 1.6 million viewers on Channel 4, a benchmark for a drama launch previously hit a year earlier by Deadwater Fell. It was the network's best-performing drama among young viewers (16–34) in three years. Catch-up views hit 2.5 million within three days of the live broadcast.[59]

Channel 4 revealed on 4 February that the series had gained 6.5 million views on All 4 thus far, giving the streaming service its highest monthly figures to date for January, nearly doubling the previous figure. The series became the third biggest on the platform to date and its "most binged new series ever"; the first episode was the platform's biggest drama launch on record.[60][61] By 1 March, this number had gone up to 18.9 million.[62]

Official ratings are taken from BARB, utilising the four-screen dashboard which includes viewers who watched the programme on laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Pre-transmission data is included for all episodes other than episode 1 as the full box-set of the series was released on All 4 after the transmission of episode 1 on Channel 4.[63]

Impact[edit]

The show created an upsurge in testing. The Terrence Higgins Trust charity reported that 8200 HIV testing kits were ordered in a single day. The previous high total for a single day was only 2800.[64][65] Philip Normal produced a commemorative t-shirt featuring the slogan "La", which was a much used catchphrase in the show. The t-shirt helped raise £100,000 for the Terrence Higgins Trust.[66] Alexander has expressed gratitude that the series was shown, saying "young gay people can’t believe it happened".[67]

David Opie from Digital Spy reported that the show helped normalise the portrayal of gay sex on mainstream television.[68] On 22 January 2021, a story published via The Sun raised concerns that tabloid news was unfairly reporting on gay sex.[68][69][70] The original headline read "So much sex: It's a Sin viewers shocked by drama's explicit sex montage with raunchy threesome and oral sex."[69] The sensational headline received criticism from the public who claimed the newspaper favoured heterosexual scenes. Journalists at The Sun responded by altering the article's wording to praise the series. They also issued an apology via LGBT news website PinkNews.[69]

Critical reception[edit]

Olly Alexander was praised for his performance as Ritchie Tozer.

The series has been described as a "bonafide hit" upon release in the UK.[59] Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 97% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 9.30/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Propelled by an exquisite cast, empathetic writing, and a distinct visual style, It's a Sin is an incredible feat of small-screen magic."[71] Metacritic gave the series a weighted average score of 91 out of 100 based on 26 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[72]

The performance of the cast received widespread acclaim. Olly Alexander's performance received a positive review from Josh Smith from Glamour, who branded him the "heart of the show".[73] In another review, Suzy Feay of the Financial Times explained how "frivolous, bitchy Ritchie could easily be played as caricature, but Olly Alexander gives him a magnetic charm".[74] Keeley Hawes' performance in the final episode received praise from critics and viewers. Lucy Devine from Tyla.com described her performance as "outstanding and magnificent".[75] Joel Leaver of the Daily Post branded her scenes as a "masterclass performance". Similarly, Flora Carr from Radio Times described her performance as "stunning" and "heartbreaking", noting that some critics originally expressed confusion over Hawes' casting in the small role of Valerie, "a dowdy, cardigan-wearing Isle of Wight resident". Carr added that Hawes' performance in episode five quashed any confusion as she "turned in an acting tour de force as a mother whose grief and denial turns her vicious".[76] Critics and viewers expressed their desire for Alexander and Hawes to win BAFTAs for their performances.[75][77]

In January 2021, Scarlett Russell from The Times branded it "the most talked-about show of the moment".[78] Lucy Mangan from The Guardian praised the series, naming it a "poignant masterpiece". Of the character development she said "(Davies creates) real, flawed, entirely credible bundles of humanity and make it clear, without even momentary preachiness, how much they have to lose." Mangan drew comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding that in its wake she felt that people could "empathise that bit more with the fear, uncertainty and responses rational and irrational to the emergence of a new disease." She concluded that any suggestions the series does not take its subject matter seriously enough are "nonsense".[79] Adrian Lobb from The Big Issue praised the series for its characters. He stated "the journeys the characters in It's A Sin embark on over the decade the drama spans are truly profound." He noted the way the characters deal with HIV take viewers to the "outer reaches of the emotional galaxy."[80]

A review of the first episode in the Radio Times was also broadly positive, summarising that "Russell T. Davies portrays London's early 1980s gay scene as giddily optimistic – but foreshadows the AIDS crisis to come."[81] Davies' writing received acclaim, with Den of Geek opining that the series was a "soaring tribute" and a "must-watch", declaring it "Davies’ best yet; a joyful tribute to lost lives that delivers a seething verdict on ignorance and cruelty".[82] Similarly, Guy Pewsy of Grazia described the show as "beautifully written and impeccably acted" and named it "one of the most beautiful explorations of gay life that I have ever seen".[83] Nick Levine writing for NME opined that It's a Sin gradually develops "a thick veil of poignancy." They described the characters as "warm, flawed and sometimes frustrating".[84] James Delingpole from The Spectator branded Davies' casting of mainly gay actors "blatant hypocrisy" but thought the show was "hugely entertaining".[85] Elton John praised the show as a "triumph of creativity and humanity", adding that it was a "moving testament to a pivotal and important moment in LGBTQ history. The cast are sublime."[86] Ian McKellen also praised the series and called Davies "the most imaginative of writers for television".[87]

It's a Sin's soundtrack includes numerous artists from the 1980s including Pet Shop Boys, Kate Bush, Kelly Marie, Blondie, Erasure and Culture Club.[88] El Hunt from music magazine NME noted that the series uses "a faultless selection of queer anthems and 80s smash hits that take on a new resonance."[89] Annabel Nugent from The Independent praised the soundtrack stating "it manages to produce a feeling more substantial than that generic, cookie cutter kind of nostalgia."[90]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result Ref.
2021
Banff Rockie Awards Program of the Year It's a Sin Won [91]
British LGBT Awards Media Moment Russell T Davies' It's a Sin Won [92]
Monte-Carlo Television Festival Best Series It's a Sin Won [93]
Best Actress Lydia West Won
National Television Awards New Drama It's a Sin Won [94][95]
Drama Performance Olly Alexander Nominated
TCA Awards Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials It's a Sin Nominated [96]
Venice TV Awards Best Series Won [97]
Seoul International Drama Awards Best Screenwriter Russell T Davies Won [98]
Edinburgh International Television Festival Best Drama It's a Sin Won [99]
Best TV Actor – Drama Keeley Hawes Nominated
BAFTA Cymru Writer Russell T Davies Won [100]
Actor Callum Scott Howells Won
Actress Andria Doherty Nominated
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Series – Long Form It's a Sin Nominated [101]
Rose d'Or Drama Nominated [102]
2022 Critics' Choice Awards Best Limited Series Pending [103]
Best Actor in a Limited Series Olly Alexander Pending
Satellite Awards Best Miniseries It's a Sin Pending [104]
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Best Long Form TV Drama It's a Sin by Russell T Davies Pending
Independent Spirit Awards Best New Scripted Series It's a Sin Pending
Best Male Performance in a New Scripted Series Olly Alexander Pending

References[edit]

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