“Don’t push too hard, your dreams are china in your hands.”
Do you remember The Mill, a would-be gritty Industrial Revolution period drama set in the cotton factories of the North which aired last summer?
No? I’m not surprised. It was not exactly the most gripping of dramas. But here it is, back for a second series which is both lighter and more annoying, as the conditions for the factory workers improve but are threatened by the influx of unskilled labourers driven out of their fields in the south.
What’s immediately obvious about this second series is that, despite the apparent triumph of the first season’s finale, it’s still going to drive forward relentlessly with the whole northern poverty thing. It is a show determined to be grimly nihilistic about the poor poor (see what I did there?), no matter what happens. Children under nine are no longer allowed to work? Families will starve! Machines can be made to work faster? People will die! The boss no longer assaults women workers in the toilet? Nobody has any leverage over him any more! The people of The Mill will always, always be miserable.
Of course, it’s important not to romanticise poverty. It’s important to realise that one piece of legislation is not going to change the world. It’s important to think about how sometimes there are no good outcomes, just differently bad ones. But in the case of The Mill, the endless greyness feels gratuitous and simply unrelieved. There’s no variation in tone, no moments of crisis or of elation. Just an hour-long grind until the end of the episode.
The one thing that does seem to have changed, tonally, from the last series is the behaviour of the heroine, Esther Price. She was always, I think, meant as a Strong Female Character who Speaks Truth to Power and Stands Up to Injustice, and this was just about fine in the first series, when everything was pretty bad for the factory workers. Now, however, that the women are allowed to go out in the daylight and get medical care and everything, Esther still feels the necessity to swan around smirking at factory bosses, sabotaging equipment, blatantly skiving her shifts and flirting outrageously with the shoemaker’s boy. Frankly, she’s irritating. And, as the core of the show, that’s a problem.
There was a promising moment when Connor Temple showed up, having presumably just wandered through a stray anomaly, but his performance as yet another Evil Factory Boss was lacklustre and rather run-of-the-mill (pun fully intended). There’s little to recommend the second series of The Mill, even less than there was for the first series, and I doubt I’ll be watching any more.