Why Adult Material should be your next box set
The harsh reality of bad roots on a budget10
Katherine McLaughlin | On 29, May 2021
Over her career, actress Hayley Squires has shown off her talent and range working with a number of acclaimed film directors including Peter Strickland, Ben Wheatley and Ken Loach; her breakthrough performance in I, Daniel Blake was BAFTA nominated and it won her a BIFA for Most Promising Newcomer in the same year. For her lead role in Adult Material, Squires delivers another award worthy and daring performance in a poignant and witty mini-series, that’s part complex character study and part fascinating depiction of the ups and downs of the UK porn industry.
Squires plays a character professionally known as Jolene Dollar (“the hottest MILF in the porn industry”) to her audience, mum to her three kids and Hayley to her husband, co-workers and friends. Squires, just like her character, achieves an impressive balancing act in a demanding role; she radiates warmth, passion and fiery conviction, combined with winning comic flair, offering a compelling portrayal of a working-class lass, with limited options and astute business acumen. It’s only when a past trauma is triggered that Dollar, in her glamourous 6-inch heels, begins to teeter towards disaster into a snake pit of media vipers, wicked corporations, a costly court case, a social media meltdown and alcoholism.
It’s obvious to see why Adult Material has been nominated for five BAFTA awards. Creator Lucy Kirkwood handles its provocative material with sensitivity and a sense of humour, and unlike the dehumanising titles that often adorn porn sites and the judgemental attitudes towards this chosen profession, the screenplay is attentive to its leading character’s life on screen and off. Director Dawn Shadforth makes the artificiality of performance pop in bright pink candy-colours while the day-to-day workings of a porn set are clinical, with Dollar often disappearing into surreal thoughts about her daily chores.
The four-part mini-series offers many unpredictable twists and turns as it follows Dollar’s downfall after she speaks out publicly about a work transgression towards a young colleague, Amy. (Siena Kelly). Her protectiveness of an 18-year-old new to the business is convincing – a mother herself, she has a daughter of a similar age. Her relationship with Amy also highlights the many contradictions and multiple layers of Dollar’s character. She stands up for Amy, but is also jealous of her, feeling insecure about her own worth in a business that values youthful female performers.
The show also takes a deeper delve into where the power lies in the porn business and how that is changing, with more women moving behind the camera. The parallels with Hollywood are evident and the show’s themes of consent and the wage gap speak to wider issues in society; Dollar works in the only industry in the world where women get paid more than men.
The supporting cast are all marvellous. Kelly is absolutely credible as an enthusiastic, rebellious and somewhat naive teenager, who gets way out of her depth in the porn world. Kerry Godliman as a supportive MP and barrister sparks off Squires with endearing energy. Phil Daniels is perfectly cast in the role of a set manager with questionable morals playing it cheeky and a bit nauseating. Joe Dempsie as Hayley’s husband turns in a touching performance. But it is Carroll (an excellent Rupert Everett) who gets the meatiest male role as a wealthy, ageing boss who is craving for the old days before the internet porn boom.
Leading lady Hayley Squires pulls all the (Adult) material together turning in one of the most memorable TV performances of the year. She nails that sweet spot between sincerity and hilarity in a smartly feminist show that offers both big laughs and tears.
Adult Material is available on All 4. It is also available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on BritBox, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.