Both of these historical breakthroughs pulse through Adult Material, Channel 4’s lewd and uncomfortable porn drama penned by Lucy Kirkwood (Chimerica). I, Daniel Blake actor Hayley Squires stars as 30-something porn actor Jolene Dollar (real name: Hayley), who balances her semen-soaked work life with the struggles of mothering three children.
Photo: Channel 4
A new girl enters the studio: Amy (Siena Kelly). She’s 18, the same age as Jolene’s daughter, and it’s her first day on a shoot. Jolene looks after everyone, more or less controlling the set and keeping the director (seedily played by Phil Daniels) in check. But then Amy is encouraged to film an anal sex scene, which ripples into a simmering plot that ends in a courtroom: calling into question the difficult details of rape and consent.
Hayley/Jolene’s likeability is on a sliding scale, which is exactly how it should be. The artifice of her porn persona – all smiles and moans and nymphomaniacal stares – clashes with her motherly care off-camera. It feeds into her argumentative attitudes about people’s judgements and her limited understanding of what consent and harassment mean.
When her oldest daughter Phoebe (Alex Jarrett) admits to a traumatic experience with her boyfriend, Jolene shrugs it off as a simple misunderstanding: ‘It’s really difficult for boys.'
She’s eventually enlightened by the outspoken lawyer and former MP Stella Maitland (Kerry Godliman), a rare voice of reason entering Jolene’s weird world. Their funny, stressful chemistry mixes hilarity and aggression, taking the form of intense shouting matches. When the famous American porn actor Tom Pain (Julian Ovenden), with whom Jolene has a difficult history, comes to London, Jolene and Stella’s bond becomes strained between care and loyalty.
Tom Pain feels a little too villainous at times. If I May Destroy You teaches us anything, it’s that assailants can come with innocent smiles. But Pain represents that breed of violent misogynist, the kind who will bend, break and throw away women if they don’t suit his mood. The screen fills with nausea every time he enters the frame.
Then there are those around him, the men who see but don’t speak, which is the case for Jolene’s producer Carroll Quinn (Rupert Everett). He embodies all the stereotypes of a porn industry mogul, wearing floral shirts and fur coats like he never left the 70s.
Phil Daniels stars as Jolene's porn director. Photo: Channel 4
The series is cautious not to reform Jolene. Adult Material isn’t a journey into the societally acceptable way forward, to walk the moral path always travelled in telly. Jolene can do whatever the hell she wants, but there are improvements to be made first.
Kirkwood packs a lot into four episodes, with some offside characters clearly wielding unexplored depth, but their brevity often makes the series more entertaining. The tone can flicker suddenly from horror to humour, which Squires encapsulates so well. Many will cringe and maybe even despise the talk of erections, semen and anal prolapses (known colloquially as ‘rosebuds’) as well as the gruelling accounts of sexual assault – but that’s what makes it vital viewing. It’s hardcore, and it’s important.
Adult Material airs on Monday 5 October at 9pm on Channel 4
|What||Adult Material, Channel 4 review|
05 Oct 20 – 05 Oct 21, ON CHANNEL 4