TV preview: The Mill

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Earlier this year Kerrie Hayes was Bafta-nominated for her role as feisty mill worker Esther Price in the period drama The Mill, against Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter and Maxine Peake.

To say the Liverpool-born actress was shocked is an understatement.

“I thought it was going to be like, ‘Who’s this girl? She’s just turned up to make up the numbers’,” says Hayes with a big, loud cackle.

She might have lost out to Colman in the lead actress category, but “it was nice to dress up and go out”, says the 27-year-old.

We’re on the set of series two of The Mill (four years have passed since the end of the first series and it’s now 1838) and once again, it’s being filmed at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, the very location that inspired writer John Fay to pen the gritty drama.

Now a National Trust property, it’s a tranquil setting and “there’s nothing modern in sight, so it’s really useful to get you into the period”, says Hayes, whose dirty smock is a far cry from her red carpet look.

Her red hair, peaking out beneath a white cap, has finally grown back after it was shaved off for a scene in series one, in which Esther was punished for disobedience.

There’s no room for vanity on this set though, not when the only make-up to speak of “is extra eye bags”, says Hayes. “I just want you to know they’re not mine.”

Having walked in Esther’s shoes, a woman who did actually live and work at the mill, Hayes believes it was “a lot simpler back then”.

“You just got up, did your stuff, went home, the end. There were no computers, no messing around. You only wore one outfit, so you weren’t bothered about clothes.”

The new series begins when Esther is 21 and having come to the end of her apprenticeship, she’s moved into her own place in the nearby village.

While the first series saw Esther take a stand against the appalling work conditions, the second series focuses on the lives of the mill workers between 1838 and 1842.

The effects of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 (which made a distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor) were starting to take hold and desperate economic migrants from the south of England began to arrive at the mill in search of work.

A natural rebel with a revolutionary streak, Esther’s never far from the action, not least when riots kick-off.

Hayes admires the fact Esther stands up to people: “I’d never be able to get up and say half the things that she does without expecting some severe consequences, but she doesn’t care.”

And as to whether she thinks herself as confident, she jokes: “Only if I’ve had a couple of drinks!”

Brought up in Anfield, Liverpool with her four siblings, Hayes made her TV debut in Lilies, followed by guest appearances in Holby City and Doctors, and then in 2009, she was cast as the lead in the film Kicks. That same year she also starred in Sam Taylor Wood’s John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. “I was only in it fleetingly, but she was so lovely to work with,” says Hayes of the artist-turned-director who’s helming the big-screen adaptation of Fifty Shades Of Grey.

“She’s very calm and incredibly artistic. She’ll make every effort to make it unique and put her stamp on it, for sure,” she adds.

Following Nowhere Boy, Hayes starred in the movie Brighton Rock and episodes of Black Mirror and Good Cop, before landing The Mill. There’s already talk of a third series...

“Yeah, I think we could squeeze another one out,” she jokes.

Beyond that, the drama might continue, but the actress is aware her time will probably be up: “If John keeps jumping four or five years, I’ll be too young, so I’d probably lose my job!”

The Mill, Channel 4, Sunday 8pm

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