When is Russell T Davies’ 1980s AIDS drama It’s A Sin on TV?

The former Doctor Who showrunner has created a new Channel 4 drama about young gay men coping with the AIDS crisis.

It's a Sin

Channel 4 and HBO Max’s drama It’s A Sin (formerly called ‘Boys’) is created by Years and Years creator and former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies, and stars pop singer Olly Alexander in the leading role.


The series will explore the lives of three young gay men affected by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and as Davies told RadioTimes.com, the storylines are based on his own experiences.

Following the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival, we now know that the series will likely air in early 2021, after filming first kicked off in October 2019.

Here’s everything you need to know about It’s A Sin, including casting, release date, and storylines.

When is It’s A Sin on TV?

Davies’ upcoming series It’s A Sin (previously under the working title Boys and, before that, The Boys) will likely air on Channel 4 in early 2021 – meaning fans will have to wait a little longer than originally anticipated.

The series is a co-production with HBO Max, and in August 2020 the streamer’s international originals chief, Jen Kim, spoke at the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival – and teased It’s A Sin with an exclusive clip.

She said: “If there is something out there that speaks to an underrepresented audience, diverse voices and interesting subculture, those are things I gravitate towards. On the flip side, we want to make sure that we’re broadening out our content and finding things that feel accessible and are a little bit bigger in scope.

“It’s a balance between finding these really beautiful, authored stories and finding these bigger, more commercial stories.”

Boys readthrough
Channel 4

Previously asked about casting during an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com at the South Bank Show Awards in July 2019, Davies said: “It’s all going to kick off in September. It won’t be on until this time next year.”

And true to his word, in September 2019 Davies announced that he’d finished and delivered all five scripts – while the read-through took place in October ahead of filming.

What is It’s A Sin about?

The five-parter will examine the lives of a group of young gay men (Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin) who are hit by the outbreak of a new deadly virus, HIV, after they move to London during the 1980s.

“They’re all based on my experiences,” Davies told RadioTimes.com. “They’re all 18 years old in 1981, that was my age in 1981, in a sense they’re all part of me but equally they’re all invented… Some of them do [die of AIDs].”

In a statement, Channel 4 said: “Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin are young lads, strangers at first, leaving home at 18 and heading off to London in 1981 with hope and ambition and joy… and walking straight into a plague that most of the world ignores.

“Year by year, episode by episode, their lives change, as the mystery of a new virus starts as a rumour, then a threat, then a terror, and then something that binds them together in the fight.

The cast of Channel 4's Boys
Channel 4

“It’s the story of their friends, lovers and families too, especially Jill, the girl who loves them and helps them, and galvanises them in the battles to come. Together they will endure the horror of the epidemic, the pain of rejection and the prejudices that gay men faced throughout the decade.”

Who is in the cast of It’s A Sin? 

Russell T Davies has signed up an all-star cast, including Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris.

The lead role will be played by actor and pop singer Olly Alexander from the band Years & Years (yes, just like Davies’ previous series Years and Years).

Olly Alexander plays Ritchie, Omari Douglas plays his friend Roscoe, and Callum Scott Howells completes the trio as Colin. At the start of the story, it’s 1981 and they’re just beginning a new life in London.

Lydia West (Dracula, Years and Years) plays Jill Baxter, Ritchie’s friend from college, “straight-talking, funny, and the rock on which they rely”.

Keeley Hawes (of Bodyguard, The Durrells and Line of Duty) will play Ritchie’s mum Valerie, while Shaun Dooley will play his dad Clive.

Neil Patrick Harris stars as Henry Coltrane, Stephen Fry plays MP Arthur Garrison, and Tracey Ann Oberman plays the role of Carol Carter. Nathaniel Curtis plays a character called Ash, “a faithful friend through thick and thin.”

Boys Russell T Davies

Olly Alexander said: “I feel like the luckiest boy in the world to be a part of this project, I’ve been a fan of Russell T Davies ever since I watched Queer As Folk in secret at 14 years old. His work helped shape my identity as a gay person so I’m absolutely over the moon we’ll be working together. The script was amazing to read, I laughed and I cried a lot, it’s a privilege to be helping to tell this story and I’m so excited.”

Neil Patrick Harris said (before the name was changed): “I’m so pleased, and incredibly proud, to be a part of Russell T Davies’ new series. This drama, Boys, is two things: it is an irresistible, funny, jubilant story of young people discovering their true identities and the unalloyed joy of living life to the fullest, it is also a deeply resonant exploration of a decade when so many of these lives were cut short by the devastating effects of the nascent AIDS pandemic. Russell’s scripts chart the highs and lows of this time so beautifully and deftly, it’s an honour to help tell this story.”

Is there a trailer for It’s A Sin?

Russell T Davies took to Instagram to post a first-look teaser trailer for his new drama – and revealed that it has changed its name from Boys to It’s A Sin.

The teaser shows Ritchie select the Pet Shop Boys track It’s A Sin on a pub jukebox.

View this post on Instagram

IT’S A SIN, the new title for Boys, a 5-part drama coming in 2021 on Channel 4 & HBO Max. . 1981. Five 18-year olds leave home and move into a London flat. The decade unfolds, as they explore their hopes and dreams… but with a terrible new virus on the rise. . Starring Olly Alexander as Ritchie, Lydia West as Jill, Omari Douglas as Roscoe, Callum Howells as Colin, Nathaniel Curtis as Ash, with Shaun Dooley, Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Tracy Ann Oberman and Keeley Hawes. Produced by Phil Collinson, directed by Peter Hoar. . @ollyyears @lydiawestie @marsdoug @callumhowells_c @nathaniel.curtis @misskeeleyhawes @nph @stephenfryactually @tracyanno @davidcarlyle_ @nathanieljhall @jill.nalder @luckyshanniiee @jonnygreen4 @neilashtonactor @davidgajones @natsus1 @totobruin @kenchristiansen1 @michaelmather @seyansarvan @tobias__charles_ @mathewbose @1carolineberry @billycullum @miche_greenidge @tatsu_carvalho @redproductionco @channel4 @hbomax @nicolanshindler @jfferkim @andypryorcasting @realandypryor @ri_mcd @lordfulcher @philcollinson @pjuk @benstills @lindaviemakeup @alynwaterman @sarahbrewbrew @katznelson.david @carolinedkwh

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It’s A Sin will air on Channel 4 in 2021. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide