The Mill Series 1 Episode 1 (Channel 4) Review

The short-lived nature of Channel 4’s misery-porn drama, Run left a sorrowful hole in the schedules, and now they’ve filled it with The Mill, a show that shouldn’t fool you with its 8pm time-slot. In the UK, hard-hitting or gritty dramas are rarely shown before 9pm, so the fact that The Mill is on so early led me to believe that this would be a family-friendly depiction of 19th Century mills and the child labour that encompassed.

But this isn’t Oliver Twist – it’s a dark take on what life might have been like for a child or adolescent ‘rescued’ from the workhouse but set to work inhumane hours under awful conditions at the mill. Add to that a handsy overseer and you’ve got a pretty wretched existence, mixing issues of feminism and abuse of power into the already heavy bowl of social issues. Some of the characters are based on real people, with situations sticking pretty close to reality, so that adds a layer of authenticity to things that only helps the show.

When a boy is injured while the overseer is out back trying his luck with a young worker, some of the more vocal youngsters feel compelled to speak out. There are campaigners in the streets attempting to pass a bill forbidding children from working more than 10-hour days, and a sense of unrest that can only signal a happy ending to all of this misery, but young Esther is left leading her one-woman army against the injustice she faces every day. She’s even fighting another girl’s battle and, when everyone refuses to back up her claims, there are repercussions she has to face alone.

The Mill is the sort of series that starts off bleak and gets more and more hopeful, but they’ve only got four weeks to get there. There are pantomime villains, moral men doing immoral things and a mouthy madam who’ll probably end up inspiring her fellow workers to get up and do something about their situation – so there’s definitely potential for some feel-good moments down the road. A love story might even be brewing between Esther and a dashing mechanic sprung from debt prison to work on the machinery but, if nothing else, it’s a nice history lesson on early enough for the kids to watch.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Mill airs on Channel 4 in the UK.