One-off drama explores the titular issue of consent
Consent (Channel 4, 10pm)
The actor and comedian Emily Atack’s recent BBC documentary Asking For It? highlighted some of the issues young women face today, particularly surrounding the issue of consent, as applied to the sending of sexually explicit images – so-called ‘cyber-flashing’.
This new one-off drama is similar in its scope, albeit exploring the titular issue of consent in terms of in-person interactions. And although it is essentially a work of fiction, it is inspired by the real-life testimonies of hundreds of young people who have recounted their own actual experiences at school.
If that sentence shocks, well, it should.
It follows Natalie (Lashay Anderson, of Hulu series Black Cake and BBC iPlayer drama Rebel Cheer Squad), who earns a scholarship to an elite private school. Once there, she is seen as something of an outsider – she is working class, clever, and does not feel as though she fits into the accepted order of things in this world of wealth and privilege.
She does, however, bond with rich, high academic achiever Archie (played by newcomer Tom Victor). Archie is the embodiment of his posh private school, which has only recently started accepting girls – and his every move, online and off, is dictated by the rules of ‘lad culture’.
The pair may not ordinarily be a good fit, therefore, but Archie inwardly feels like something of an outsider – and Natalie certainly is. They make fast friends.
However, one night at a party, boundaries are crossed and trust is broken between the two. Their friendship will never be the same again, but how will the school deal with the accusations? After all, they are made against ‘one of their own’…
The issues raised here are shocking and insidious. It would be tempting to dismiss them as hyperbolic, but remember – this is based on true testimonies from hundreds of individuals, from both state and private schools, made to writer Emma Dennis-Edwards during her research for this drama.
Dennis-Edwards is a writer-performer whose one-woman show Funeral Flowers won the Fringe First Award at Edinburgh Festival, and whose TV work includes writing for BBC series Champion and as story consultant for AMC’s six-part thriller Ragdoll. Consent marks her first original standalone drama on the small screen, and it is a testament to her commitment that she is debuting with such an ambitious and considered – not to mention thoroughly researched – film.
It will be a challenging watch – particularly, one imagines, for parents of teenagers – but a compelling and a vital one if you want to better understand some of the challenges that young people face today. Some of which will, sadly, be familiar to people of any age, while others – those centred on social media and online content in particular – are new and frightening.
The talented young cast also includes Rhea Norwood (Heartstoppers), Ty Tennant (House of Dragons), Denzel Baidoo (Screw) and Alex Heath (The Serpent Queen), while the adults in the piece include Richard Harrington and the ever-excellent Kimberly Nixon.