Grace Dent on TV: The Mill, Channel 4

Soot-covered, sexually abused child slaves getting their limbs lopped off by looms – it really is grim up North

Another muggy summer week, another depressing British TV drama. The Mill, Channel 4's harrowing new examination of early-industrial Britain, is so bloody serious, so dry, so gritty Bafta, so bang-you-around-the-head worthy that I tried to describe the first 10 minutes to people a few times this week, but couldn't do it without laughing.

The North. 1831. Dawn breaks and several grey-skinned child apprentices wake, covered in soot and coughing up phlegm, in a filthy dormitory. It's dark. Fiddle with the side of the telly if you want, it's meant to be that dark. A loud bell clangs and a vicious Northern matriarch walks about threatening the urchins. They wash in icy water and run anxiously towards their 12-hour shift in an unlit room full of machines that would have your arm off. We're only five minutes into a four-hour epic historical re-enactment and I estimate around 89 per cent of viewers have thought “oh stuff this” and turned over to Countryfile to enjoy the gentle vibes of John Craven cuddling a lamb in the Wye Valley.

I carried on watching The Mill, but found playing “We Like to Party” by the Venga Boys to drown out the loom noises helped. Oh those looms! Those swishy, bashy, dangerous machines. Someone could lose a foot or get crushed to a jammy pulp. And it's still so, so dark. And not one actress has been allowed blusher or access to dry shampoo. And then one of the poor girls is dragged into a cobwebby corridor and sexually assaulted by one of the mill owner's sinister henchmen.

Actually, she's nearly sexually assaulted as the attack is thwarted. Hooray! The mood is lifted! Oh no, the sex attack is thwarted by a child falling in a machine, mangling his arm, then being dragged upwards flailing by the gory remnants of flesh and bone, making a noise like a fork in a lawnmower. Things have gone crap again, and continue to be bloody awful for the following 44 minutes aside from parts where the very handsome actor Matthew McNulty appears, simmering in a stained vest, clutching a spanner.

When Channel 4 got rid of Big Brother, currently bubbling away on Channel 5, it gave a statement declaring that the funds would be spent more fruitfully on important things like drama. I thought of this often last Sunday. Do I want to watch a miserable, starkly realistic depiction of Britain's journey to wage-slavery, involving a good long think on a Sunday night about the millions of Britons who spent their lifetime in dour laborious woe? I did an awful lot of thinking about the Industrial Revolution around the time of last year's Olympic opening ceremony when Danny Boyle and Karl Hyde did their life-enhancing, visceral “Pandemonium” sequence. Or, if I was given powers of TV commissioning, would I rather watch Kinga from BB5 legs akimbo on the lawn masturbating with a wine bottle?

By the second ad break of The Mill, I was thinking “probably wine bottle woman, if I'm being honest”. I shall stay with The Mill, regardless, as it will be character-building and exactly the sort of drama to begin talking loudly about on the phone if you want four seats to yourself on a train.

In other, important TV-to-pretend-to-be-watching news, series one of Orange Is the New Black has landed on Netflix. This is Prisoner Cell Block H meets Mean Girls; a drama full of earthy women in an American jail shoving used tampons into one another's dinners and having anatomically inaccurate lesbian sex in the showers. It's the sort of lesbian sex women on the 10-2 shift in a peep show have with one eye on the clock and half a mind on whether that beef mince they bought on Thursday is on the turn yet.

This series should be brilliant. I so want it to be brilliant. I've reached episode three and it's good but not brilliant at all. Our heroine, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), is served with a 15-month stretch for drug offences committed long ago when she was young and naive. Now Piper is older, thoroughly settled down but still as bloody naive, wandering around a woman's prison walking slap-bang into jokes, faux pas and pitfalls the audience can see coming five minutes beforehand. Or she's calling her fiancé to keep their love affair – which I don't care about as they're both nauseating – alive.

There is a whole caboodle of excellent characters in Orange Is the New Black: Red the Russian chef and Alex, Piper's ex-girlfriend who got Piper in this whole mess, as well as spiky-tongued addict, Piper's cell-mate Nicky Nichols. I'll stick with the show past episode three to see if it focuses more on them and less on Piper calling home to her man Larry (played by Jason Biggs, the one who had sex with a pie in American Pie), and her flashbacks to her former life as an “artisan soap maker”. Storylines like this make me wish Piper had at least once owned a very dangerous loom.

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral