It’s A Sin follows a group of friends during the rise of the AIDS epidemic. Most of the characters aren’t directly based on real people, but Jill Baxter is.
It’s a sin follows a group of friends to London during the rise of the AIDS epidemic, and while most of the characters are either fictional or loosely based on real people, Jill Baxter has direct and real inspiration. The five-part miniseries, which eventually landed on HBO Max (it’s from UK TV channel Channel 4), chronicles the life of a group of friends mostly made up of gay men as they approach adulthood and embrace their sexuality. The series was created and written by British screenwriter and television producer Russell T. Davies (known for works such as Queer As Folk and Casanova, as well as being the showrunner for the long haul Doctor Who).
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Much of Davies’ subject matter is taken from his own experience of living as a gay person in 1960s / 70s England and deals with themes surrounding religion and sexuality (which particularly shines through the show’s title. ironic. It’s a sin). His experience on the Manchester gay scene was a stepping stone for his 2015 TV mini-series Cucumber, which illustrates modern homosexual life in the region. And, of course, being a young gay man in the 1980s, during the rise of HIV and AIDS, left Davies full of memories of what that time was like and watching Russell Davies. It’s a sin captures it all with tragedy, beauty and raw honesty. In the series, breathe new life into some of those plays from the past in the form of Jill Baxter.
While different from her male friends, the character of Jill (Lydia West) also plays a pivotal role in the series, fighting on behalf of her friends and supporting them emotionally during the heartbreaking ten years the series covers. She seems to understand the deadly nature of the epidemic since its initial onset. Her character is based on Davies’ childhood friend Jill Nalder. Much like Jill Baxter, in the 1980s Nalder was a young woman in London who attended college and gravitated around her group of friends, many of whom were gay. Now 60, the real Nalder plays the character of Jill Baxter’s mother in It’s a sin.
She has done several interviews where she recounts this anxiety-laden period of time and how the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS have rocked the world. In an interview with BBC News, Nalder recalled how many of his friends have died from the virus in shameful secrecy, with many hiding their illness and sexuality from family until they are on the verge of death. She also mentions the weird days when people started to get sick, but society didn’t understand what was going on, how the disease spread, and the severity of what was to come. “No one really knew anything, but we heard it was killing young, fit and healthy gay men,” she said.
She recalls the fear and misinformation surrounding the stigmatized disease, recalling how people talked about the spread of “gay flu” from the United States. Nalder said she can relate to painful aspects of her young self’s character, such as absorbing vast amounts of information about the spread of the AIDS epidemic and countless devastating hospital visits, but there are also has good that emerges from his involvement in this insidious disease. She later helped run an AIDS charity that still operates today, and even recognizes, “We have come so far since those days.“And now with It’s a sin, she is part of a show that gives this sad time the honest performance it deserves.
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