By David Hennessy
Channel 4’s highest-rating drama of 2013, The Mill, is set to return to television screens.
The star studded first series featured well known faces like Jamie Draven, Sacha Parkinson, Craig Parkinson and Aidan McArdle but the undoubted breakout star of the four part run was Kerrie Hayes who has been BAFTA-nominated for her portrayal of Esther Price.
Based on the history of the Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, this new series focuses on the period of 1838- 1842 to tell the stories of the mill workers against the backdrop of turbulent social, political and industrial change.
Like today, it finds characters struggling due to a banking collapse in America. While today, people say it is ‘grim up North’, the opposite is true in the times featured with workers travelling north to find employment in the booming industries. With the new arrival of those desperate for work, the mill owners see an opportunity to cut wages. Daniel Bate, played by Manchester-Irish Matthew McNulty, wants workers to stick together and fight the power of the Gregg family who control the mill.
The Irish World chatted to Kerrie Hayes and Matthew McNulty last week when they were at BFI Southbank for the premiere of the first episode of the new series.
Matthew McNulty is familiar to viewers from prominent roles in BBC’s The Syndicate, The Paradise while he has also starred in Channel 4’s Misfits and Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric.
Matthew plays Daniel Bate, a talented engineer whose talent for machinery earns him respect and seems to elevate him slightly out of his social class and provide a chance to improve life for his children.
Politically awakened in the first series, series two sees him devoting himself to worker’s rights and chartism as the fight for a vote for every man of age intensifies.
Although he has had tensions in the past with political activist John Doherty, played by Aidan Doherty, they have put their differences aside to work together.
Daniel is also a proud family man, caring for a wife and three children although the conflict between his work family and real family does cause him problems.
Matthew told The Irish World: “He has to choose between the cause and he’s conflicted throughout the series.
“Daniel has to step up now, he’s not just the voice in Quarry Bank, he’s a chartist leader as well and Doherty’s putting that mantle on him so their history and tension has gone away a little bit and they’re well and truly on the same side.”
The first episode of the new series sees the arrival of a new family, the Howletts. Driven north by a lack of work, John Howlett wants his two sons to work in the mill with him despite the fact that one of them is clearly not old enough. Daniel and John butt heads from the very beginning: “Daniel clashes with him because they’re both strong proud men. Howlett is an agricultural worker who has come up to Manchester and he drives down the wages of the workers of the mill. Daniel is now working with the new union and the Howletts and the workers from the south are threatening livelihoods. I have to look after the interests of the workers.
“He has strong arguments for what he does, Howlett, but he contradicts it by having his kids working at the mill. These are the things Daniel is trying to fight for and improve in the mill. It jars with him. He’s trying to do the right thing by his family, Howlett, but he’s just misguided. He doesn’t see that, Daniel tries to make him see that and that’s where the friction comes from.”
Like his character, Matthew is Manchester-Irish himself: “I’m Irish, somewhere down the line. My granddad’s parents on my dad’s side are Irish, my mum’s parents are Irish, they’re not far from Galway.”
Matthew got to film in Ireland when he appeared in the drama series, Single-Handed: “It was brilliant, loved it. It was beautiful because I’d never been to Ireland before then. I tell a lie, I had been to Dublin but that was drinking so I didn’t get to see the beauty of the country and Connemara is just amazing. Working on Single-Handed, the scenery we were shooting amongst was other world-ly, you just don’t expect to see that so close to home, so I had a great time in Ireland when I was shooting over there. I’m quite lucky to have experienced it and seen what I have seen.”
In 2005, Matthew starred in Love + Hate, a drama that explored the racial tensions that exist in small towns looking at the reaction of both the Muslim community and working class white community when a boy and girl different sets get together. It had a powerful message for our times: “It was interesting shooting it and listening to the opinions of the actors that were on it because most of them didn’t start off as actors, they became actors after that. It’s very much like what Ken Loach does when he examines those issues, he gets real people and the opinions that the Asian community around Blackburn and the white , it really came out in that film so it was a bit of an eye opener to be honest. Where I live, it’s quite multi-cultural, it’s southside Manchester but not far outside Manchester, small towns, there’s still quite bigoted ideals on both sides.”
Of course, there was a time when the Irish community were viewed with the same suspicion as Muslims are now and Matthew is conscious of this: “They were seen as second class citizens when Irish workers came over here so they had a lot to deal with. People like John Doherty, their fire was simply because of that, it was from that victimisation that they had. They came over to work and they were hard workers. I suppose the parallels run in The Mill with the Howletts, they’re outsiders coming in to industrial Manchester and they are frowned upon.”
Liverpool actress Kerrie Hayes was BAFTA nominated for her performance in the first series of The Mill. She will be up against Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Colman and Maxine Peake for the gong.
Kerrie’s character Esther Price is stubborn and fiery but is also reliable and selfless. Although her life as an apprentice has been tough, she will be approaching 21 and enjoying independence for the first time.
Among her other screen roles are parts in BBC’s Good Cop and Nowhere Boy.
“She’s definitely smiling a lot more this time,” Kerrie tells The Irish World. “Especially in the first two episodes where she develops a relationship with a shoe maker.”
This series also deals with slavery with the addition of the character Peter Gardener, an ex-slave turned apprentice. After the success of 12 Years a Slave, it’s a historical subject very much on everyone’s minds: “I think it will be interesting to hear this side of the story. The actor who plays him, Sope, he’s amazing and he’s so well researched and he had a quite a lot of speeches and I just found him so interesting, I stopped acting and at times was just listening to the story because obviously I’m learning as well.”
The first series saw Craig Parkinson’s Charles Crout, an abusive overseer. With this character no longer featuring, is there a villain of the second series? “There is in the form of John Howlett but it depends on how he is perceived because our characters, we see him as horrible, pretty much coming up and stealing our jobs. It’s touching on things like immigration and people’s opinions of that.
“He’s quite harsh with the apprentices and that but I think the audience will see the pressures he is under himself so he’s not necessarily the bad guy. It’s the same with Craig’s character last year when he explained that he had had the same things done to him. They don’t have anyone who is necessarily a bad character because you see both sides to every story.”
For the full feature, see the July 19 Irish World.
The Mill returns to Channel 4 at 8pm on Sunday July 20.