TROUBLE DOWN T’MILL!
TV’s hard-hitting new period drama
Y ou may not think so when you first see her, but 17-year-old Esther Price was one of the lucky ones. The main character in Channel 4’s heartbreaking but compulsive new Victorian drama The Mill, based on a real person with the same name, works a 12-hour day in a factory where she can barely hear what anyone else is saying, such is the roar of the machinery around her.
The air is thick with specks of cotton dust, the fastmoving Spinning Mule could trap her and maim her at any moment — as fellow apprentice Tommy finds out when he loses a hand — and she survives on a diet of cold porridge, occasionally mixed with pieces of onion. All this hardship and not a penny in wages. ‘And yet she was an apprentice in one of the most enlightened mills in the whole of northern England,’ says Kerrie Hayes, who plays Esther in the four-part drama. ‘She had a roof over her head, was given an education and — uniquely at the time — worked in a factory with its own doctor. Compared to many young workers at this point in the Industrial Revolution, she was well treated.’
Set in 1833, The Mill not only focuses on the working lives of Esther and her fellow apprentices at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire; it also tells a tale of rebellion at a time when the workers were starting to stand up for their rights. Esther removes the chime from the bell that signals the start of the working day and stands up for fellow apprentice Miriam after she’s attacked by their lecherous overseer. When kind-hearted engineer Daniel Bate arrives, he becomes Esther’s ally. He fits protective devices to make the machinery safer, while political firebrand John Doherty rages against the 12hour shifts imposed on children.
The Mill is notable for its authenticity. Quarry Bank was a real working mill, now restored, and the actors worked in the very same buildings in which apprentices ate, slept and were punished 180 years ago. The story itself is based on more than 20,000 documents in Quarry Bank’s archives. Emily Roe, creative director at DSP, the production company behind The Mill, says, ‘There were so many references to the woman who was to become the perspective from which our story is told, Esther Price. We learned how much she was paid, what diseases she had, what she ate and when she had her children.’
The Mill, tonight, 8pm, Ch4
Based on real people and events, new period drama The Mill paints a grim but compelling picture of the effect the Industrial Revolution had on factory workers