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

Pop singer Olly Alexander leads a cast of young newcomers in the Channel 4 and HBO Max drama It’s A Sin (formerly called ‘Boys’).

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The series is created by Years and Years creator and former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies, and explores the lives of three young gay men affected by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

The cast (which features gay actors playing gay characters) also includes the likes of Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Stephen Fry.

The series is loosely inspired by Davies’ own real-life experiences – just like the three central characters in It’s A Sin, he was an 18-year-old gay man in 1981, at the start of the AIDS crisis.

“I was 18 in 1981, just like Ritchie [played by Olly Alexander], so the bones of this story were always in me, but it took a long time to get there,” he said. “Maybe I had to reach this age first.”

The drama focusses on a group of 18-year-olds who move to London in 1981 and rent a flat together (dubbed the ‘Pink Palace’). As the AIDS crisis looms, they each have differing attitudes to the then-rumoured virus, drawing stark parallels with the start of the current coronavirus pandemic.

The series first aired in January 2021 on Channel 4, and can be viewed as a box-set over on All4 (you can read our four-star It’s A Sin review here).

A trailer was released near the end of 2020, teasing the storylines of three young gay men (and their respective families) in London before and during the AIDs crisis. Another clip revealed Alexander’s character Ritchie to be an AIDS-denier, as he listed conspiracy theories surrounding HIV/AIDS.

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?

It’s A Sin will premiere Friday 22nd January 2021 at 9pm on Channel 4. All five episodes will be available to stream on All4 after that.

The show was previously under the working title Boys and, before that, The Boys.

It's A Sin
It’s A Sin (Channel 4)
Channel 4

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.”

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 wrote It’s A Sin?

Years and Years creator and former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies created It’s A Sin, based on his real-life experiences. (You can read more about the It’s A Sin real life history here.)

Boys readthrough
Channel 4

You’ll no doubt have watched one of Davies’ many shows, which include the likes of Queer as Folk, Torchwood, Casanova, Bob & Rose, and Cucumber.

In an interview with Radio Times, however, Davies said he was more proud of It’s A Sin than anything else.

He also revealed that he has been writing the series since 2016: “It took a while. People are very kind and say that someone in my position ‘must get everything you write made’, but it’s not that easy; it’s never easy to convince people to part with money.”

Who is in the cast of It’s A Sin? 

Russell T Davies signed up an all-star It’s A Sin cast, including Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris.

Speaking exclusively to Radio Times, Davies has stressed the importance of casting gay actors in the roles of the gay male characters in It’s A Sin.

“I’m not being woke about this… but I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint… they are not there to ‘act gay’ because ‘acting gay’ is a bunch of codes for a performance. It’s about authenticity, the taste of 2020.

“You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places,” he said.

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”. The character of Jill is based on an “inspiring” real-life person, Jill Nalder.

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 (he appears in It’s A Sin episode three), 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?

Yes, you can watch the trailer here, in which we see the reports of the AIDs crisis slowly reach the main characters.

“Do you seriously think there’s an illness that only affects gay men?” Ritchie asks. “I don’t believe it.”

Olly Alexander also tweeted a clip of the series, in which his character Ritchie expresses his doubts about the existence of AIDS.

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It’s A Sin will air on Channel 4 on 22nd January 2021. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.