AIDS in the 1980’s is the backdrop for the five-part 2021 series It’s a Sin (HBO Max), a highly worthy viewing that’s realistically based on the experiences of a group of young friends as they become aware of the plague in London.
Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture: “The show’s best quality, and the thing that saves It’s a Sin from being an unrelenting dirge, is that it refuses to slide into regret or underplay its characters’ joy.”
And Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, called it “really funny and truly moving” and “the best thing I’ve seen this year.”
John Powers, NPR, sets it up:
The series begins with the coming together of five gay — or gay friendly —characters. There’s cocky, self-involved Ritchie (played by pop star Olly Alexander) who wants to be an actor. There’s campy Roscoe, who’s been booted from his home by his Nigerian Christian family and hooks up with a Conservative MP (Stephen Fry). There’s sturdy Ash Mukherjee, an attractive teacher, and the touchingly naive Colin, a young Welshman who works for a Savile Row tailor. Holding the house all together is Jill (Lydia West), another aspiring actor based on Davies’ real-life best friend.
Notably present also is Neil Patrick Harris, a sort of mentor to Colin.
Karina Shah, New Scientist, reminds us that AIDS isn’t just history:
The mortality rate from HIV is now lower with the development of preventative drugs, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and antiretroviral therapy. But living with the devastating impacts of HIV or AIDS is the reality for millions of people, especially those living in low-income countries where therapies are hard to access.
It’s a Sin‘s favorable reviews are barely marred by minor criticisms here and there that mostly relate to certain characters getting short shrift. As it turns out, though, the creator had wanted three more episodes; they didn’t get the needed funding.
Compare this to the excellent 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague, about AIDS hitting the U.S. and the activism that followed.
Named in critic Lisa Schwarzbaum‘s “10 Best Movies of 2012,” David France‘s documentary tells the story of both ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), two coalitions responsible back in the day for pushing such organizations as the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the drug companies, and the general medical establishment to do more regarding AIDS research and treatment.
The Story Via Review Excerpts
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: The film “begins in 1987, six years into the AIDS epidemic, when the group Act Up formed in Greenwich Village and proceeded to march on New York’s City Hall in an effort to shame Mayor Ed Koch for his lack of response to what was then known as the ‘gay plague.'”
Sara Stewart, The New York Post:
Featured ACT UP leaders include writer and agitator Larry Kramer; Peter Staley, a former closeted bond trader who went on to become one of the group’s most eloquent spokesmen; and Bob Rafsky, whose angry outburst at a speech by then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton evoked the now-famous phrase ‘I feel your pain.’
Video of protests, strategy meetings and the near-dead is interspersed with TV images of President George H.W. Bush merrily playing golf and Sen. Jesse Helms denouncing the ‘revolting’ victims for not keeping their ‘sodomy’-related problems to themselves. (In one of their more lighthearted actions, the group memorably unfurled a giant condom over Helms’ house.)
Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle: “When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament to extraordinary human bravery. It stands as one of the most heartbreaking and suspenseful sagas of the year.”
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