LONDON — Russell T. Davies, who is best known for penning ground-breaking gay drama “Queer as Folk” and regenerating the “Doctor Who” franchise, is set to write TV miniseries “The Boys,” which centers on the lives of young gay men in the 1980s and how they dealt with the AIDS pandemic.
Davies, who was speaking Friday at a launch event for his fast-paced gay drama-comedy “Cucumber,” said of “The Boys”: “It’s the kind of story that you think has been told, but then you realize it hasn’t been told in Britain: the story of what happened to those boys in the early ’80s and late ’80s.”
Davies says the project has come to the fore partly as a reflection of where he is in life, following a period when his partner has been seriously ill. “It’s been building up in me. It’s partly turning 50, and looking back at your life, and partly having stared mortality in the face. And I am amazed that I haven’t written this before — I am amazed no one has. I think we are reaching a bit of a generational thing now where men like me in their 50s are looking back and realizing how shocking it was.”
Davies believes that in that period many gay men found it hard to come to terms with what was happening to their friends. “Personally speaking, I think we all ran away from it; I feel like I ran away from it,” he said.
Dramas set in the ’80s, like the recent BBC film “Pride,” which he says is brilliant and he loved, do not accurately portray the reaction of most gay men to the AIDS crisis. “It kind of looks in dramas like we were all waving placards in the streets and besieging [the prime minister’s residence] about AIDS, and barracking our MPs [Members of Parliament] and our doctors. That’s not how it was at all as I remember it,” he says.
He adds: “Most of us, as often in life, just stayed very quiet and couldn’t quite believe it was happening. It was the brave few who were out on the picket lines. This is still the case for any issue — most people aren’t on the picket lines. I mean that for myself. I didn’t go out on marches. I didn’t do anything. I actually couldn’t quite believe it was happening. That’s why I need to write this, and I haven’t come to the end of coming to terms with it. That’s what I’d like to do: to find out why I did what I did. I didn’t do anything wrong or bad, but literally I had friends who died and I didn’t go to their funerals, I didn’t write to their mothers. I didn’t do anything. I was young and stupid. I just carried on. I look back now and I’m ashamed of that. And I genuinely wonder why I did that. Maybe you just have to reach this age. The things you have to write just rise up in you. It is not planned, there’s no schedule.”
Although “The Boys” will be a work of fiction, it will draw heavily on Davies’ life and the lives of his friends. It will center on a young woman, based on a friend Davis has known since he was 14, who was friends with many of the young men and cared for them while they were dying. “She sat on the wards and held those boys’ hands,” he says. He describes her as a “hero.”
The drama will avoid the politics of the period and instead focus on the experience of young gay men at the time. “I want to go into the bedsits. It’s called ‘The Boys’ because it’s about the boys. The story of the politics has been told, the story of the marches has been told, the story of the virus has been told. The story of the boys has not been told. The boys are not here, and their deaths were very quiet. There’s a lot to say about that.”
“Cucumber” was conceived of as an American show, and was set in Seattle. Davies wrote the script while he was living in Los Angeles, working on “Torchwood,” and began life as a pilot at BBC Worldwide; it was being considered by Showtime, which made the American version of “Queer as Folk.” But after Davies returned to the U.K. due to his partner’s ill health, the miniseries found a new home at Red and Channel 4. The U.K. version of “Cucumber” and its sister show “Banana” will air on Logo TV in the U.S., although Davies says that a U.S. remake of the show is in the cards.