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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones