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

20 Responses

  1. Wow. Incredible story brought to life by a stellar cast. Ended up watching the documentary straight afterwards as well. How those people fought for so long to get some form is justice is incredible and they deserve compensation well above the amount agreed to by the PO.

    Television like this should be seen be far more people than the viewing figures indicate.

  2. I was more than happy to watch double episodes I am a night owl so I guess that helps and I don’t have to get up and go to work in the morning but it was absolutely riveting and the cast is just fabulous and do a great job with a great script…. thank you all so for your excellent review David Knox.

  3. I have watched this and it’s unbelievable how governments treat their people in a supposedly well-functioning democracy. It is however not the only scandal. See: Windrush. There is also a scandal now that has been unfolding for 20 years. International students by the thousand forced to take an English language test and been accused of cheating and being chucked out of the country. The American company running the tests claimed that 97% of tests done were cheated.

    1. The really worrying thing is that for 20 years courts from Magistrates Courts all the way to Supreme Court Appeals were happy to believe that nearly 1000 reputable people from all across the country all suddenly started committing the same sort of petty thefts, at the same time, without checking that the evidence was correct.

  4. Such a shame this has wound up on 7 and will be branded with Australian Idol and Tipping Point promos covering a quarter of the screen for the most part. I’ll have to wait for a streaming service to hopefully pick it up. After 7 covered up half the on screen credits on the Farnham doco I vowed never again.

    1. You won’t watch a program because you don’t like the way credits are run? Seems like you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face in this instance.
      It’s a terrific Drama. Maybe watch on 7plus, they tend to run full credits.
      FYI, Tipping Point is on Nine

      1. No you’ve misunderstood. I don’t like how they cover the bottom right of the screen with promos. In the Farnham doco there were titles on screen for people being interviewed (on screen credits) which were covered by 7’s promos.
        Good point about Tipping Point! Shows you how much attention I pay to FTA these days.

  5. I admire anyone who takes on their government when they know their government has wronged them…here in Queensland 2000 people where issued 2500 infringement notices, fined $1000+, had double demerit points, 600+ lost their licenses, 800 were issued community service orders all because of seatbelt and mobile detection cameras.. because the State Government computer system had a glitch…. It is still being corrected now..this has been going on since 2020 and people are still fighting their charges …QRO references AI software uses filter imaging from its highway cameras but authorities stressed they have “trained and authorised” officers who review AI identified images before issuing infringements..thats not convincing those who were fined etc….I will be recording this show because Seven always show double episodes of any good dramas they have.. unfortunately they love to prioritise reality and reality always seems to runs overtime as well.

  6. Seven won’t care that they’re scheduling double episodes of this to finish close to midnight. They’ll still be able to trumpet that something like 1.8 million people watched the show simply because they watched the first minute of it and then went to bed.

    1. I believe this method of collation is a failure. This is because of the awareness of how the ratings are now collated. It’s the modern era and people can tell if it’s a sincere overview or not. Years ago people wouldn’t have known. The ratings were published in the newspapers. Now the prospective clients will be aware, so it’s more important to do research, and be forthright and directive to paths that have the best possible outcome for ad revenue and client success as well. Very simple example, directing children’s advertising to Nickelodeon etc.

  7. Thanks for your review of this drama production, David.
    As one of the few remaining households in Oz with a PCR, I will record the program on Wednesday night and watch the next day – fast-forwarding through the ads!

  8. What a coincidence. I have just finished the podcast on BBC4 called The Great Post Office Trial. It was completely riveting. I felt a little blah that it was finished, so this has put a spring in my step. What a brilliant cast. Thanks, David, for the heads up.

  9. “Mr Bates vs the Post Office is the real TV drama and one not to be missed.”

    I couldn’t agree more, absolutely must see and if Seven were really serious about this, they would ditch their reality crap & broadcast the 1st 2 episodes on either a Monday or Tuesday night @ 7:30pm with the remaining 2 episodes on the following night. Along with releasing all episodes on 7Plus in 1 go. This is so much better than any episode of Australian Idol (or any other reality TV show) could ever muster. There are some similarities between this & our Robo debt fiasco.

    Glad to see that they are also broadcasting the associated Real Story doco that should also be watched.

    1. Agree, 8.50pm is too late to start a double episode drama. I watched this show last week, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely similarities to the Robodebt ordeal in Australia, the problem is that if any network was to dramatize that, it would not be anywhere near as well produced as Mr Bates.

    2. MAFS is so successful that Seven can’t buy a drama and air it against it. They will be hoping that those who don’t watch Mr Bates vs The Post Office will it stream it on 7plus later in the week.

  10. I knew nothing about this scandal, but I will be watching this show.

    But the premise of the article is correct. It doesn’t matter how much logic or reasoning you use to convince decision makers that there is an error or something else is wrong. It is only when the issue (however accurately) gets exposed in the public domain do these decision makers felt the pressure to respond appropriately.

    We had our own example with Robodebt and to our collective shame it went on for years, until someone actually did something about it and what a shameful episode it was.

    Again I don’t know the final outcome of the Post Office scandal, but possibly like Robodebt, those who covered up or denied will have no substantial punishment brought against them.

  11. Great review. Will definitely tune in but I will watch on delay…I cannot comprehend why the double episodes, leaving the finale double finishing not long before midnight. Why not screen over four weeks? Strange choice of programming…

    1. Run it as singles on Thursdays over 4 weeks and it will clash with football season, and we can’t have that, can we?

      I watched this recently over a couple of nights. The comparisons to Robodebt are apposite, but I feel Robodebt was far worse. It’s definitely one of those shows “to get angry to”.

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