Keeley Hawes was sold on ­being in Russell T Davies ’ drama about the 80s Aids crisis before she had even seen the scripts.

When she did the effect was ­devastating. She read them all, laughed and cried, and knew she had to have a role in It’s a Sin.

Keeley, 44, plays a flawed, dislikable mum Valerie who fails to see the obvious, that her only son, Ritchie, is gay.

It is a complex role but Keeley is excellent playing conflicted ­characters, having been Bafta-nominated for Line of Duty and Bodyguard – as well as delighting millions of viewers in the comedy The Durrells.

Keeley Hawes on It's A Sin
Keeley says her character on Russell T Davies' new drama about Aids goes on “a hell of a journey”

Keeley, currently starring in ITV hit Finding Alice, recalls hearing about Russell’s five-part Channel 4 drama, which starts on Friday.

She says: “I said to my husband, ‘Oh my God, I’d love to be in that!’ Without having seen the scripts.”

When they did arrive, she was not disappointed by the ­characters or their heartbreaking yet uplifting stories. She says: “They were so real. There can be humour in death and Russell manages to find those light moments. I sat and read every episode, one after the other, and laughed and sobbed.”

She says: “I said to my husband, ‘Oh my God, I’d love to be in that!’ Without having seen the scripts.”

When the scripts did arrive, she was not disappointed by the ­characters or their heartbreaking yet uplifting stories.

She says: “They were so real. There can be humour in death and Russell manages to find those light moments. I sat and read every episode, one after the other, and laughed and sobbed.”

Russell T Davies
Russell T Davies' new drama explores Aids

HORROR

Keeley found it interesting to be Valerie who, along with husband Clive, played by Broadchurch’s Shaun Dooley, is blind to their son’s sexuality.

She says: “Valerie is what she is – a woman of her time, a product of her generation. She is very easy to dislike, so the trick was to bring something likeable to her because we have to have empathy with her.

“I knew women like that. At her core she adores her son.”

Shaun, 46, also accepted the role before he had seen the scripts.

He says: “When I read them I just wept, and at the read through with all these young kids, it was even worse. It’s the first read through I’ve ever cried at.

“It’s important someone like Russell tackles this. He hasn’t just done a massive paintbrush of devastation and horror, he’s filled it with life and energy and joy and love.”

It's A Sin cast
Years & Years singer Olly Alexander plays Ritchie Tozer in the series

Keeley says her character goes on “a hell of a journey” as she “faces up to a new reality.”

She says: “For so many people there was a stigma around Aids and there still is for many, too.

“Hopefully this show will help break down attitudes that some people still have.”

Keeley will never forget filming the series. She says: “It was the only set I’ve ever gone on where a member of the crew broke down in the middle of the scene. They were exhausted and drained; it was a long, hard shoot.”

She thinks there are many comparisons with today’s virus crisis.

“The timing has become accidentally extraordinary. The way people were treated before they knew what Aids was, the alienation of those people who were suffering in isolation.”

Richie and Clive Tozer in It's A Sin
Richie and Clive Tozer in It's A Sin

Doctor Who writer Russell, who also penned Queer as Folk and Bafta-winning A Very English Scandal, says HIV/Aids has killed 30 million people globally yet seems to have been forgotten.

He says: “I’m very aware younger generations are growing up not knowing anything about this period.

“And actually, let’s be honest, people who were there at the time don’t know anything about it either. There are those who have happily forgotten such a bad time, and I don’t blame them.”

He thinks as there are drugs to manage HIV there is a degree of complacency about it. But he said there is no vaccine and an estimated 100,000 people in Britain have it and are undiagnosed.

He was thrilled when Years & Years singer Olly Alexander, who spoke at Glastonbury about gay rights and equality, was cast as Ritchie.

GENIUS

Keeley Hawes previously starred in The Durrells
Keeley Hawes previously starred in The Durrells

Russell says: “People adore him. So, you obviously hope that he’ll bring all those young fans of his along and they’ll see a world they didn’t know existed. But it’s also for us, it’s for people who were there because we forget.”

Russell spoke to a lot of friends for research. “I’ve had 40 years of having friends die and hearing about other friends who have had friends die.

“It’s what makes Ritchie, in particular, this rich character. He’s got a hundred lives compacted into him.”

He enjoyed the conversations, even though some parts were sad. He says: “I was there. I saw those people, knew those people and loved those people.”

Stephen Fry, who plays an in-the-closet Tory MP who gets involved with one of the boys, says: “Russell’s genius is to make you laugh and cry simultaneously. You’re proud to be a part of it, like a message to my dead friends that they’re not forgotten.”

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