TV’s hard-hit­ting new pe­riod drama

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - Tim Oglethorpe

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

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