The Mill DVD Review

What’s it about? When you talk about period drama these days, the first that comes to mind is the hugely successful Downton Abbey. The twists and turns of the aristocratic Crawley family have captivated audiences over the past few years, earning praise all over the world. Yet Downton’s mix of light-heartedness and drama is a world away from Channel 4’s The Mill. An altogether different kettle of fish, The Mill is as bleak as they come and never lets up. A mixture of real-life stories and fictional characters, The Mill looks at life at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire during 1833 – the Industrial Revolution – and the desperate day-to-day struggles of everyday common folk.

Verdict: The Mill delivers a powerful punch to the gut with the ambitions of young apprentices, yearning for a life beyond the hand they’ve been dealt. Overworked to the extreme, these children could only dream of being paid and living an acceptable existence. They were lucky if they got fed at all, let alone quality food in a bowl. You can see the devastation in their eyes, simply working through fear of what will happen to them if they stop. The founder Samuel Greg (Donald Sumpter) is only concerned with building his legacy and furthering the Greg name to become one of the leading industrial families in the country. At the opposite end, Esther Price (Kerrie Hayes) shows a heart and determination that gives hope in the bleakest of situations, even when all around her is falling down.

The conditions at the mill are nothing short of horrendous. Charlie Crout (Craig Parkinson) is a creepy pervert, taking advantage of the young girls at the mill, while the boys struggle with machinery and injuries are commonplace. These were conditions designed to destroy the soul, to kill ambition and transform the future of this country into mindless drones. Yet history shows that even when you’re at the bottom of the well, there’s often a way to get back up again. That clichéd light at the end of the tunnel may well be dim at the start of The Mill, but through the four episodes it fights to become brighter and starts to right some of the wrongs.

John Doherty (Aidan McArdle) is the beacon that offers hope to the children, looking to take on the Gregs and similar families to revolutionise the way things are done. He’s a firm believer in fairness and wants better working conditions, and he has a charisma to combat Samuel at every corner. In a series that features amputation and eating food out of hands, it’s easy to see why someone like Doherty came along. Anyone with a conscience would want to help the workers who were treated so badly beyond any acceptable levels. Verbal abuse, rape and more are all on the plate on a daily basis, and that makes The Mill really tough going to watch. Yet you stick with it because no matter how hard it is to watch, it’s nothing compared to those who lived it. Life was an eternal power struggle that wore people down to their very core.

To speak about highlights of such a dark existence is uncomfortable at best, but Hayes’ performance is nothing short of outstanding. To anyone who saw Good Cop last year, this will come as no surprise, as Hayes is familiar with dealing with difficult subject matter as a beaten-up female cop. Here she carves out a niche as a young talent beyond her years – she is relatable, strong and, more than anything, completely believable. There is a sadness and pain in her eyes that speaks volumes. The cast of The Mill on the whole is a fantastic blend of top class British talent, but Hayes especially comes out of this looking like a true superstar for the future. She commands every scene she is in, and she will always be the last one on your mind once you’ve stopped watching.

Final Words: The Mill is incredibly difficult to watch, but that of course is the point. This was not a time for happiness. This was a time for work, pain and anguish, something which should never be experienced again, yet still happens in some places in the world. The Mill sends a message that no matter how difficult things get, people find strength within themselves and others to carry on, and audiences should find this too in order to get to the end of the series. It’s hard to recommend The Mill as something enjoyable, but it’s captivating and horrific all at the same time.

Extras: On the DVD, we’re offered a behind-the-scenes look at the effort that went into creating an authentic look to the show and the historical nature of the scripts, as well as a look at the mill and some photos. This offers a little background to the series with just enough to encourage you to research further if you’re interested. It certainly adds some weight to the story, knowing conditions like these actually existed. If you like period dramas, or indeed something a little grittier, then The Mill is worth suffering through. Just don’t expect to be smiling at the end of it.

The Mill is available on DVD from 19 August.