When is The Mill on TV?
The first of the six episodes that make up series 2 of The Mill is broadcast on Sunday July 20 at 8pm on Channel 4.
Why you should watch it
The Mill isn’t just another costume drama: it’s a look at a significant era of British history from the perspective of mill workers in Cheshire, rather than the more genteel classes that are usually the focus of such programmes.
The Mill is filmed at the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, which was owned and run by the influential Greg family, and is inspired by documents from the extensive historical archive.
Exploring history from the bottom up, it charts the lives of the workers as they adapt to changing times.
The new series starts in 1838, four years after the passing of of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 – which made a distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor – and the changes are beginning to have an impact on the nation.
Impoverished economic migrants from the south of England are starting to arrive at Quarry Bank Mill. The appearance of the Howlett family causes unease in Styal village, as the mill workers fear the arrival of desperately poor families – economic migrants, in modern parlance – will drive down wages at the mill.
The impact of the new law also hits home for feisty Liverpudlian apprentice Esther Price (played by Kerrie Hayes) when she discovers the filthy beggar in the mill yard is, in fact, her own sister, Martha.
The series also features Peter Gardener, a former slave who Hannah Greg brings back from the family’s sugar plantation in Dominica. She believes Peter agreed to come back to England with her to speak at abolitionist meetings and give a first-hand account of his experiences to help end the slave system. What she doesn’t realise is that Peter has his own agenda.
It’s easy to see why the fresh dramatic and historical perspectives of first series of The Mill caught the imagination of Channel 4 viewers, making it the most-watched drama of 2013. This new six-part series will cover the period between 1838 and 1842, focusing the mill workers as they live in an era of turbulent social, political and industrial change.
Who to look out for
Esther Price, based on a real person who first entered the Quarry Bank Mill as an apprentice in 1833, is central to the action of The Mill. She is making the most of her new-found freedom, exploring new pleasures – from the ale house to love.
Also prominent is Quarry Bank’s chief engineer, Daniel Bate (played by Matthew McNulty), is a brilliant, talented mechanic – and an idealistic socialist who has seen both sides of the manufacturing divide.
The drama is played out against a background of the great Chartist rallies (which aimed to secure the vote for all men) and what we can now see as the birth of modern democracy, as the working classes begin to demand a say in their own lives.
Those aspirations create tensions between the characters within their class and with the employers whose decisions have such an impact on them.
Historically accurate, The Mill will bring to life the real experiences of actual 19th-Century people over six weeks.
Don’t bet against it being C4’s most popular drama this year, either.