It’s often said that New York is the most iconic film location in cinematic history. With countless romcoms, action thrillers and even Christmas films set and filmed there. From West Side Story and When Harry Met Sally, to Spider-Man, The Avengers and Elf. Perhaps without even visiting New York – we all have our own impression of ‘The Big Apple’.
But Channel 4’s latest 5-part drama It’s A Sin, predominantly set in 1980s London, transports viewers to 1980s New York – without cast or crew setting foot in the States…
Produced by RED Production Company (Years and Years, The Stranger, Traces), the series was filmed across North West England, with Liverpool City Council’s Film Office facilitating a few days of shooting in January 2020, as Liverpool doubled for New York and for London in selective scenes.
Although countless stories have been set and filmed there, it’s very common in film and TV to not shoot in the locations that the story is set in. Usually for budget reasons, or convenience (think transporting the 100+ cast and crew and equipment), but sometimes because the substitute location actually looks more historically appropriate.
Liverpool has been lucky with its architecture and layout – with the Royal Liver Building closely resembling early tall American skyscrapers — but also the ability to close the road for filmmakers to transform the streets and turn them into a stage.
This isn’t the first time Liverpool has stood in for the USA, with several films and TV shows using the city as a backdrop as the stars perform on the streets of Merseyside. Stars such as Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins, Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as the stars of the small screen, from productions such as ITV’s Cilla, to Netflix’s The Crown.
And now; It’s a Sin!
Many remember the 1980s as a decade characterised by the HIV and AIDS epidemic – a fatal virus that wreaked havoc upon LGBTQ+ people and society at large.
Few dramatists have brought a British focus of the HIV crisis to the screen, especially as extensively as multi-BAFTA Award-winning writer and Executive Producer, Russell T Davies does in It’s a Sin (Queer As Folk, A Very English Scandal, Years and Years, Doctor Who) – but it seems impossible to think of the aids crisis without at least briefly exploring New York, the epicentre of the virus in the 1980s.
1980s New York is also recognised as a period where it was a hotbed of artistic creativity, with icons like Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Talking Heads, Blondie, Spike Lee, Martin Scorcese, Keith Haring and so many more, making international and historical success.
But it’s important to remember why – because New York; especially at this time was seen as a centre of sexual liberation and creative revolution.
It’s no small feat to recreate that spirit, especially in establishing shots – but grand architecture, dressed with yellow taxis, USA flags and subway steam – is a good place to start!
Already hailed with rave reviews for its “its gut-wrenchingly honest portrayal of life during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s,” locals should look out for Liverpool in episode two.
It’s a Sin first aired in January 2021 on Channel 4, and all 5 episodes can be viewed on All4.