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Keeley Hawes, Neil Patrick Harris, Olly Alexander Cast in AIDS-Era Series ‘Boys’

Olly Alexander, Keeley Hawes and Neil Patrick Harris are set to star in “Boys,” a new series from “Queer as Folk” creator Russell T. Davies that charts the lives of a group of young gay men who find themselves caught up in the blooming AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

The five-part series starts filming next week, under director Peter Hoar (“The Last Kingdom”), and is expected to air on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2020. “Boys” is being produced by Nicola Shindler’s banner, Red, a unit of Studiocanal.

The project has been gestating for some time. Davies, who is fresh off the critical success of the dystopian political drama “Years and Years,” said nearly five years ago that a story about Britain during the AIDS crisis had been “building up” within him. “It’s the kind of story that you think has been told, but then you realize it hasn’t been told in Britain,” he said at the time. “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.”

Pop singer Alexander – whose band, coincidentally, is called Years & Years – plays 18-year-old Ritchie, the apple of his parents’ eye, but from whom he keeps his secrets. He falls in with pals Roscoe and Colin, played by newcomers Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells, respectively, and the “boys” embark on adventures together as a deadly new virus begins to stalk the gay community.

Shaun Dooley (“Broadchurch”) stars as Alexander’s father, and Hawes (“Bodyguard”) as his mother. Lydia West (“Years and Years”) and Nathaniel Ash portray a pair of faithful friends. Harris (“A Series of Unfortunate Events”) plays Henry Coltrane. Other cast members include Stephen Fry and Tracy Ann Oberman.

“I’ve been a fan of Russell T. Davies ever since I watched ‘Queer as Folk’ in secret at 14 years old,” Alexander said. “His work helped shape my identity as a gay person, so I’m absolutely over the moon we’ll be working together.”

Added Harris: “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.”

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