Russell T Davies was terrified he’d ‘let people down’ with It’s a Sin: ‘It was an enormous weight’

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Russell T Davies has spoken out about the difficulties he encountered writing his hit mini-series for Channel 4, It’s a Sin.

The prolific screenwriter gave an interview to the Guardian after the newspaper named It’s a Sin its best TV show of 2021.

The series follows three gay men as they move to London in the early 1980s. A mysterious illness – to them – quickly begins spreading through their queer community, casting a long shadow over their adventures.

Winning widespread acclaim, the show made stars of Omari Douglas, Lydia West and Nathaniel Curtis. It also featured lauded performances by Olly Alexander and Neil Patrick Harris.

Davies explained that the necessity of writing It’s a Sin had loomed over him for over 30 years since the height of the HIV crisis.

“Imagine if I’d got this wrong, if it had been rubbish,” he said.

“Imagine if I’d let down all those people for whom this is a life-defining thing. We all lived with their deaths for so long, and doing it justice was an enormous weight to bear. It took me a lot longer to write the first episode than anything else I’ve ever written. I normally write it in about a month. This took about six months.”

. When the crisis was at its peak, Davies was studying for his English degree in Oxford, which felt like a safer, calmer city than London at the time. His hometown friends, who had taken off for the big city, weren’t so lucky.

“I wasn’t at the heart of the hurricane, but I did lose lovely people,” he told the Guardian. “I lost the very first person I slept with, whose name I still can’t say because his parents don’t see his death as an AIDS death.”

The writer said that It’s a Sin has helped him and his friends speak about what they went through, having struggled to talk about the crisis for years.

“Somehow we believed or echoed that straight reaction that dying from AIDS was shameful,” he said.

“A friend phoned me up in tears and said in the late 80s, he’d taken a friend who was dying into his flat to live in the spare room. His family ended up being there, too, as he died. And my friend said: ‘I forgot it happened.’ He didn’t literally forget, but it was part of his past that was so horrible it just got parcelled up and put away in his memory.”

It’s a Sin had a profound effect on many viewers, prompting a spike in HIV testing.

Among those to open up about the impact they felt was Elton John, who revealed that watching It’s a Sin made him realise how lucky he had been not to contract the virus.

Russell T Davies has previously opened up about the difficulty of placing the show. He was turned down by BBC, ITV and even Channel 4 at first.

“Genuinely, because it’s about people dying. It’s a tough piece of work,” he said at the time. “And I can’t sit here now with any guarantee that people will watch it – it’ll be really interesting to know.”

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