The Mill was unfortunately broadcast on Sundays,  while BBC1 The White Queen had been off to a good start  for a few weeks. The scheduling  was unfair, and probably unfruitful,  for Channel 4. Watchers like me, fond of period drama and longing to see both, had to choose. But it was not a huge problem: I saw The White Queen live and recorded The Mill.  I could catch up,  I saw the 4-episode series and it was worth it.

Set in a cotton mill in Cheshire in 1833, The Mill is a very interesting,  original drama based on the real lives of humble young people who lived and worked in that area when the political unrest to obtain more rights for workers was rising.

The idea of using the historical archives of the Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire to tell the story of a social turning point, when workers and activists began to rebel against the use of unpaid child apprentices forced to work 12-hour shifts in dangerous conditions makes this series really realistic and unique.

The series offers a very realistic picture of the working class in the Victorian Age, something I only saw in one other period drama before, BBC North and South (1994) based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel (1855). The Mill has been defined the anti-Downton Abbey, and it actually is a completely different attempt to period drama. 

This series reminded me also of BBC One’s The Village,  which recently attempted to recreate ordinary lives 100 years ago, which I liked quite a lot,  but was criticised by some for its grimness and failed attempt at authenticity. I think The Mill can't be attacked on those grounds though, though it isn't flawless. 

The story is mainly seen from a female point of view. To be  women workers made the living conditions of those wrecked young souls even more helpless, since they were doubly discriminated and inhumanly exploited. One of the protagonists of the story is Esther Price (Kerrie Hayes) ,  based on a real character whose experiences as an apprentice at Quarry Bank Mill were used by campaigners at the time to illustrate the importance of the Ten Hour Movement. She is not simply a victim but a feisty, strong-willed teenager, who doesn't easily bend to her destiny. She doesn't accept being considered a nobody with no rights, especially when Daniel Bate  (Matthew McNulty, Misfits, The Paradise) arrives at the mill,  bringing with him  the foundation of the workers’ rights movement. 

The workers and the young apprentices in the story - who had to work without being paid until they came of age - have to suffer in the hands of the masters of the mill,  the Greggs, and cope with their hypocrisy. The Greggs boast of their philanthropy but,  practically,  they exploit  the young people they are supposed to educate and take care of and are totally disinterested in their real welfare and happiness. 

Mrs Gregg, for instance,  campaigns for the abolition of slavery without realizing how hypocritical it sounds,  since her family runs a plantation overseas and their workers in England don't have any right nor freedom, just like the human beings she tries to advocate for. These were the symptoms of the so-called Victorian Compromise,  which blinded the rich middle classes and prevented them  from seeing that the poverty they fought with their charity was the result of their own selfish utilitarianism in making business. 

I'm glad I've found new video material for my lessons about the Industrial Revolution and the working class movement in the Victorian Age. Worth watching. 

Buy the DVD at amazon.co.uk

For news, cast and characters, videos visit the official site at Channel 4


Alexa Adams said...

Wow! I haven't heard of this before, and I'm off to hunt down the series (any idea where I might find it, or when it might be aired in the US?). I love this kind of story - reminds me of Zola's Germinal. Thanks for reviewing it!

Tara said...

Is it going to be on again anytime soon, in America? I hadn't heard of it. :(

Maria Grazia said...

I'm afraid I can't answer your questions, Tara and Alexa. No idea if they sold the series overseas. It was aired in the UK by Channel 4 and it is now available on DVD (see link below the post)