Sometimes a spoiler is unavoidable — unlike an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Take “Titanic,” for example, no matter how cheery the story, you know the ship is eventually going to sink and leave a handsome young protagonist floating frozen in the dark waters.
With the BBC miniseries “It’s a Sin,” which successfully made its trans-Atlantic journey to HBO Max last weekend, there’s no spoiler lurking: It’s a miniseries about a group of young queer people sharing a flat in London during the height of the AIDS epidemic and, no matter how likable they are and how much you hope, some of your favorites are going to die.
The five-part series is reminiscent of creator Russell T. Davies’ groundbreaking 20-year-old series “Queer as Folk,” a celebration of carefree gay life in a more enlightened safer sex world just a decade after the worst days of the crisis.
Ritchie (Olly Alexander) has left his family on the Isle of Wight for the excitement of London. Free of the closet, he has dreams of becoming an actor and quickly perfects his casting couch skills with any man who’s willing and able.
Flamboyant Roscoe (Omari Douglas) is the son of African immigrants who casts his family aside to finally live his own truths, often with very wealthy and closeted older gentlemen.
Colin (Callum Scott Howells) is the naïve Welsh lad who takes up a sales apprenticeship with a Saville Row tailor and is befriended by Henry Coltrane (Neil Patrick Harris).
The flatmates are accompanied on their carefree escapades by Jill (Lydia West), the enlightened product of a still socially unacceptable mixed-race marriage.
Like the best nights at a club, last call means the lights are going up soon and the party will come to a crashing close. The tone of the series turns quickly as Colin learns that Henry has been quarantined with the rumored gay cancer that was lurking among London’s gay community. Denialism still abounds until another flatmate, Gregory "Gloria" Finch (David Carlyle), is the first to be felled. More will come.
In interviews, Davies related that many of the characters and plot twists came from his own experiences at the time. In addition to homophobia in general, he takes deserved swipes at Margaret Thatcher’s government inaction, ignorance and hysteria on the part of the public and the parent denial that leads LGBT youth to develop low self-esteem and embrace self-destructive behavior.
“It’s a Sin” is a barely concealed morality tale in many ways, but never whole-heartedly delves into the larger dynamics at work within the gay community at the time or the horrific scope of the epidemic in the U.K. and beyond. For LGBT people who came of age later, the series is thought-provoking entertainment, but not the dissertation most have a duty to understand.
Here’s the spoiler: The ubiquitous happy ending is fleeting at best, but “It’s a Sin” effectively puts faces on the countless innocent victims who are mostly remembered with quilt panels nearly 40 years later.
“It’s a Sin” is available for viewing on-demand on HBO Max. For more information or to subscribe, go to hbomax.com.