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A harrowing watch: James Arbuthnot reviews 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office'

Mr Bates vs The Post Office: Actor Toby Jones plays Alan Bates | Image courtesy of ITV

Lord Arbuthnot

Lord Arbuthnot

3 min read

As someone who fought for justice for the many sub-postmasters wronged by the Post Office, I found ITV’s portrayal of this scandal both enthralling and fury inducing

It’s odd, seeing yourself being portrayed on screen by an actor. And I found myself worrying about all the other MPs who worked on the story, who didn’t get a look in. But that’s drama for you. And excellent drama it was. It has now caught the imagination of the people, and about time too. Some find it frustrating that it has taken a TV drama to have had this effect, but I think that’s the wrong way round. The frustrating thing was contacting journalists and politicians and finding they wouldn’t listen. If it took a drama to get them to listen, I’m all for it.

We open with the sleepy Llandudno Post Office being raided by a set of heavies emerging from three black saloons. We cheer as Alan Bates behind the counter sends them packing through sheer bloody mindedness. Toby Jones in the lead role in this enthralling, anguishing, fury-inducing drama has completely caught Bates, a man I revere. Bates is shown giving up his life savings for a principle – he absolutely refuses to say something is true when it isn’t.

And then, for Alan Bates and for so many others, everything gets worse and worse. We see Jo Hamilton being told, “Nobody else has this problem”. We hear of the bullying of Lee Castleton’s children at school, while Lee himself, in defending against a (false) claim for £26,000, is told to pay costs of £321,000 and bankrupted. And then things get worse still.

Somehow this harrowing narrative is shot through with humour and hope

But somehow this harrowing narrative is shot through with humour and hope. The writer, actors and entire ensemble have managed to make a story that is both hard to watch but impossible to stop watching, a story of the little man winning through against impossible odds.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office
Mr Bates vs The Post Office | Image courtesy of ITV

Suddenly, at last, a scandal that had been flying under the radar for years has gripped a nation which is horrified that this could have happened here. This is a country we like to think of as the fount of fairness, compassion and the rule of law. Yet in Mr Bates vs The Post Office we see a callous legal system, a government that fails to oversee one of its most important organisations, politicians including myself failing to achieve a thing for their constituents and “the most trusted brand in the country” selling its own sub-postmasters down the river, in protection of that brand.

We are left at the end of Part IV with the reminder that 60 people have died before receiving full compensation, some of them without knowing that they would be exonerated – and some of them having taken their own lives. And nobody in the Post Office, Fujitsu or the  government has been prosecuted. And it’s all, shockingly, true.

Lord Arbuthnot is a Conservative peer and former MP for Wanstead and Woodford 1987-97, and for North East Hampshire 1997-2015

Mr Bates vs The Post Office
Written by: Gwyneth Hughes; directed by: James Strong
Broadcaster: ITVX


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