The Mill Channel 4 Review – Period Drama Set In 1830s England

If you’re one of those people who hanker after a world before health and safety zealots wrapped our children in cotton wool then a couple of things: i) button it and ii) The Mill is the ideal program for you. They don’t worry about health and safety at the Quarry Bank Mill in the 1833. So while the young girl Miriam (Sacha Parkinson) is being molested in the bogs by evil overlooker Charlie Crout (Craig Parkinson) the 10-year-old unsupervised slave rat Tommy (Connor Dempsey) gets his arm trapped in the machinery. Ah it was great back then. Yes you got a few bumps and scrapes but that’s how you learned about life. Miriam has learned that she’s a disposable grope toy and Tommy’s learned that his hand’s going to be amputated. They don’t teach you that at University.

So life is a faeces quesadilla for the children and 12 hour shifts are quite literally run of the mill. But wait, change is in the air. Irish political organiser John Doherty (Aidan McArdle) agitates for the 10 hour bill that will make it illegal for a child to work more than 10 hours a day (which is essentially turning work into a holiday camp).

Doherty delivers fiery rhetoric through a broken face he got at the hands of a savage beatdown at the hands of the mill’s new mechanic Daniel Bate (Matthew McNulty). We don’t know what provoked the pummelling but we do know that mill owner’s son Robert Greg (Jamie Draven) just dragged him out of debtor’s prison Dirty Dozen style as apparently he’s some kind of wayward engineering genius. Daniel’s politically conscious too so if he can knock off beating Irish men unconscious then he’s arrived at exactly the right time.

Also feisty is apprentice girl Esther Price (Kerrie Hayes). When whistleblowing on Charlie Crout’s sexual abuse backfires she finds herself cornered in the privy with him getting ready to get rapey. It doesn’t look good for Esther but one whack in the nuts with a metal bell clapper she stole and all of a sudden it’s Crout who doesn’t look so hot.

So exploitation, mutilation, sexual abuse and a metal clapper to the balls. While I’m not going to tell you it’s cheery there’s an optimism in The Mill that leavens the mood and prevents it from descending fully into misery porn. Although the characters are based on real people from the era they still feel a little bit plucked from stock Dickensian archetypes – the fusty mill owner, the gobby Mick, the spirited girl. Nonetheless the writing and performances are fine and it’s nice to have a reminder of why we need trade unions as, one way or another, most of the people watching owe their existence in the gene pool to them.

The verdict: What’s 10 years old and got one hand? Oh you’ve heard it.

Marks out of 10: 7