The recent BFS Entertainment DVD release of the first series (my people call them seasons) of the exceptional 2013 docudrama "The Mill" provides an extraordinary look at the real-life circumstances regarding the teen and younger apprentices, the adult employees, and the owners of a cotton mill in 1833 England.
The certificate of authenticity comes in the form of a statement at the beginning of each episode that "this drama is based on the people and history of Quarry Bank, Cheshire, England." Brief online research indicates that many names are not changed and that there is not much effort to protect the not-so-innocent.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of an exceptional spoiler-free trailer for "Mill" provides a sense of it authenticity and near-film-level quality.
The opening scene in the series premiere expertly conveys the tone and authenticity of "Mill" by having the ringing of a large bell disturb the peace of the enormous and very sparse room in which the pre-teen and teen girls that make up a large portion of the workforce of the titular factory reside.
This event occurs in pre-dawn hours and leads to the army of indentured servants rushing to get to work before the bell that is tolling for them goes silent. The audience soon learns of the bad fate that befalls a girl who is outside the mill gate when the bell goes silent.
A brighter spot is that a later scene involves humor that centers around the hated bell. One spoiler is that the clapper makes very apt contact with a bellend.
Seeing the girls scurry among the rapidly moving machines is cringe-worthy enough, and a horrific industrial accident within the first 15 minutes of the first episode is even worst. This harm befalls a very sweet boy, who at least gets a hand from the company.
Seventeen year-old Esther Price is a feisty girl who receives brutal punishment for asserting her rights and those of her co-workers. She additional is the victim of a common scheme that mill owners use to extend the period of servitude that children who effectively sign their lives to the mill must fulfill. It is akin to manipulation by the military to extend the length of an enlistment.
Daniel Bate is in debtor's prison when the audience first meets him; he is soon released and goes to work using his mechanical brilliance to develop semi-automated machinery that greatly reduces the need for human labor. His primary contribution to the drama involves strongly advocating for the workplace reforms, which include reducing the workday from 12 to 10 hours, that are receiving increasingly strong support throughout England. Needless to say, this does not please Robert Greg, who is transitioning into the role of running his family's mill.
Daniel additionally is developing a stronger relationship with teen girl Susannah, who is pregnant under circumstances that are very embarrassing to the Greg family. This growing romance places increasingly strong pressure on Daniel to curtail his rebel-rousing.
Matriarch Hannah Greg is a caring woman, whose humanitarian efforts include teaching the apprentices to read and playing an active role in the abolitionist movement. The fact that her husband owns a cotton plantation that uses slave labor impairs the street cred of Hannah despite said spouse asserting that the "negroes" on the plantation receive much better care than similarly situated individuals.
The first series devotes a perfect amount of time allowing the audience to learn about these characters and those with whom they interact in the context of the running of the mill. These stories additionally provide an excellent sense of the conditions under which Esther, Susannah, and their fellow apprentices live and toil. These powerful images include depictions of their meals consisting of ladles of mush that is scooped directly into their outstretched hands.
All those involved do equally well showing the increasing tensions on both sides of the effort for improved conditions for the poverty-stricken children who end up at the mills. The final episode in particular shows that those youngsters are mad as Hell and are not going to take it anymore.
This expert job in telling these stories leave you wanting more, which the second series that has begun airing on Channel 4 in England is providing. One can only hope that BFS makes these episodes available on this side of the pond in the near future.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "The Mill" or other BFS DVD releases of awesome British programs is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.