Adult Material (5 stars)

Adult Material

An examination of the porn industry through the eyes of a mother turned industry star

2020 has been many things, not many of them positive, but in TV it's proved to be a year of many triumphs for British female leads. We've had supreme performances from Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You and Billie Piper in I Hate Suzie, but they are both eclipsed by Hayley Squires with Adult Material. Having previously lit up everything from Call The Midwife to I, Daniel Blake, here the Londoner hits unbelievable heights in the kind of role that comes under the bracket of once-in-a-lifetime.

She plays Jolene Dollar, a porn star who, at the age of 33, is deemed to be a veteran heading towards the end of a career that on the surface has allowed her to enjoy a certain lifestyle and status, but deep down has slowly destroyed her very essence as a human being. A complex creation, Jolene talks up her profession while trying to steer others away from its inherent perils: she attempts to take teenager Amy (Siena Kelly) under her wing but can't save her from manipulation and exploitation at the hands of men helming the business: Rupert Everett as porn baron Carroll Quinn, Phil Daniels playing a director who's shot movies across several decades, and Julian Ovenden excelling as creepy, abusive US actor Tom Pain.

There are isolated moments and entire scenes that are almost too agonising to watch, but this is an essential and thought-provoking four-parter from the pen of Lucy Kirkwood. While offering the odd glimpse of levity, Adult Material pulls no punches about an industry that keeps convincing itself that it trumpets human expression and propagates free thinking, but can't help from leaving in its wake a lengthy trail of damaged goods and lost souls.

Channel 4, Monday 5 October, 10pm.