Words: Will Stroude
Olly Alexander, Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry will star in Russell T Davies' upcoming 1980s-set AIDS drama Boys.
The eagerly-anticipated five-part series, set to air on Channel 4 in 2020, wil chart the lives of three young gay friends in London over the course of the decade which saw the AIDS crisis unfold.
Alexander, who appeared on screen in films like 2014's The Riot Club and TV's Skins before finding pop success as the frontman of Years & Years, leads a stellar cast for the latest project from Queer as Folk creator Davies.
Former Attitude cover star Alexander, 29, will play 18-year-old Ritchie Tozer, described as "the family’s golden boy, though he’s determined to keep his secrets from them".
"I feel like the luckiest boy in the world to be a part of this project, I’ve been a fan of Russell T Davies ever since I watched Queer As Folk in secret at 14 years old," says Olly.
"His work helped shape my identity as a gay person so I’m absolutely over the moon we’ll be working together. The script was amazing to read, I laughed and I cried a lot, it’s a privilege to be helping to tell this story and I’m so excited."
Olly will be joined on screen by A-list screen stars including How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Henry Coltrane, and Stephen Fry, who'll play an MP called Arthur Garrison.
Harris says of his latest role: "I’m so pleased, and incredibly proud, to be a part of Russell T Davies’ new series.
"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, it’s an honour to help tell this story."
Screen newcomers Omari Douglas and Callum Scott Howells will star alongside Alexander as the two other central 'boys' of the series.
Olly Alexander (left) will star alongside newcomers Omari Douglas (centre) and Callum Scott Howell (right) in Russell T Davies' Boys
Douglas plays London-born 17-year-old Roscoe Babatunde, "a wild, brittle party boy, always on the run" while Scott Howells portrays "a quiet, unassuming, boy from Wales, about to become an apprentice on Savile Row".
A synopsis for Boys, which is set to begin filming next week, reads: "It’s 1981, the start of a new decade and Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin begin a new life in London. Strangers at first, these young gay lads, and their best friend Jill, find themselves thrown together, and soon share each other’s adventures.
"But a new virus is on the rise, and soon their lives will be tested in ways they never imagined. As the decade passes, and they grow up in the shadow of AIDS, they’re determined to live and love more fiercely than ever."
The show's cast also includes Bodyguard's Keeley Hawes as Ritchie’s mum, Valerie, Broadchurch's Shaun Dooley as his dad, Clive, his dad, and former EastEnders star Tracy Ann Oberman as Carol Carter.
Lydia West - who you may recognise from Davies' recent dystopian drama Years and Years - plays "straight-talking, funny" Jill, while Nathaniel Curtis plays Ash, "a faithful friend through thick and thin".
Davies, who has said in the past Queer as Folk faced criticism in the LGBTQ press upon its premiere in 1999 for not prominently featuring an HIV storyline, previously said Boys is dedicated to everyone whose lives have been affected by the AIDS crisis.
"I lived through those times, and it’s taken me decades to build up to this," he said. "And as time marches on, there’s a danger the story will be forgotten.
"It’s an honour to write this for the ones we lost, and the ones who survived."
Boys will premiere on Channel 4 in 2020 in the UK.