Mr. Bates vs The Post Office
There were hundreds of cases of local postmasters ruined by faulty computer software, but it took a TV drama to ignite a national backlash.
The success of Mr. Bates vs The Post Office is a triumph of the power of television.
Since the 4 part drama screened in the UK it has led to a backlash against the government, drawing front page headlines, compensation for victims, convictions quashed and a former Post Office CEO handing back her CBE.
But it is also a triumph of the power of brilliant casting.
Watching this true life tale, you never get the feeling of star actors overwhelming the material. The fact that they all feel like an ‘everyman’ fighting against bureaucracy only makes this all the more convincing.
At the heart of the story is Alan Bates (Toby Jones) a mild-mannered subpostmaster working in North Wales in 2003 who refuses to comply with government thugs -there’s not much other way to describe them- who are convinced his shortfall in his accounting is due to theft.
But Bates blames the discrepancy on a newly-installed computer software known as Horizon. Supported by wife Suzanne (Julie Hesmondhalgh), he resists bullying threats, convinced he is in the right.
Less forthright is Jo Hamilton (Monica Dolan), another subpostmaster, running a village business where she is cherished by the locals and serves with a smile. But she is silently panicking over problems with her balance which literally doubles in thousands of pounds before her very eyes. A Post Office helpline advises she will have to make up the short-fall until she can resolve the problem.
They are just two of the many small business owners isolated and in freefall as a result of Horizon’s faults -yet the company line is that there are no other complaints and the system is robust and in order.
Even when Alan and Suzanne pack up shop and relocate to their dream rural escape, the determination for justice never leaves them.
Eventually Alan issues a call-out for fellow aggrieved postmasters to a regional meeting, where stories of fear, devastation and solitude are shared. Such is the power of the Post Office that one even went to prison (many more it is revealed, followed). Amid pressure to repay supposed monies owed, some took drastic measures….
In the difficult role of CEO Paula Vennells is Lia Williams, determined to uphold the reputation of the British Post Office, while others more benevolent will include Alex Jennings as MP James Arbuthno and Adam James as Patrick Green QC.
While the cast is full of faces you may have seen in British dramas before, such as Katherine Kelly, Shaun Dooley, Pip Torrens, Lesley Nicol and John Hollingworth, these are all top-shelf character actors. Collectively they make the material so convincing, and at times incredibly moving.
Despite the fight for justice stretching on for years, producers have resisted the urge to drag out the story, instead clocking in at 4 compelling episodes.
In the lead role Toby Jones is understated, driven and stubborn. These are attributes Alan Bates held fast as the campaign for justice dragged on.
Remarkably, this is a story that drew media attention over the years, including with a Panorama documentary. But it took a drama on broadcast television to ignite widespread emotion.
You can read recent news stories to get up to speed on any outcomes as a result of ITV’s biggest new drama in a decade. Seven is screening these in double episodes across two weeks, alas with a late start due to Reality TV commitments.
Mr Bates vs the Post Office is the real TV drama and one not to be missed.
Mr Bates vs the Post Office double episode 8:55pm Wednesday February 14 on Seven.
Part II Wednesday February 21
Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The Real Story 9:35pm Sunday February 25