A Sad Story But Not Cinematic: Our Review of ‘Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office’

A Sad Story But Not Cinematic: Our Review of ‘Mr. Bates vs. The Post Office’

Miscarriages of justice are always upsetting. Having said that, not all bad things make good stories – ITV’s limited series Mr. Bates Vs The Post Office is proof of that. The show bills itself as the story of “the greatest miscarriage of justice in British legal history,” a claim to which anyone who majored in history might respond, “What about colonialism or the institution of slavery?” Hyperbolic title aside, Mr. Bates does tell a sad and horrible story (just not the worst ever) about a slew of sub-postmasters who were wrongly prosecuted for stealing from their post officers. The real culprit? The Horizon software provide by corrupt tech company Fujitsu.

When the series begins, the titular Alan Bates has lost the post office he ran as a subpostmaster – and his life savings – because of the shortfalls in his former post office’s account – shortfalls he swears he didn’t cause. Soon, the upright Mr. Bates realizes that he’s not the only sub-postmaster who has recently been accused of theft – there are dozens of people like him around the country, all of whom know they are innocent. It seems a conspiracy is afoot, and through diligence and commitment, Mr. Bates and his team of wronged subpostmasters pursue justice. To which I say, good for them! Kudos! I admire your principles and your pluck. But to ITV I say, did this have to be a four-part limited series?

There’s a version of Mr. Bates that’s a 1500-word piece of investigative journalism about how the proverbial Little Guy can get screwed by the Capitalist System. I would read it. I would probably even share it on social media! But instead, it’s a televisual deep dive into the lives of subpostmasters who were absolutely lovely humans; however,  in terms of plot, there just isn’t enough story to sustain a limited series.

And the lack of plot isn’t the script’s only problem. Despite a cast of solid veteran actors like Toby Jones and Amit Shah, the dialogue is what the kids would refer to “as cringe.” Case in point: When poor Monica Dolan’s character’s life stands in ruins, she disputes the idea that she would ever steal from the post office she runs, crying, “But I love my post office!” Such on-the-nose, downright embarrassing lines make this series a chore to watch! I want so much better for poor Ms. Dolan! At one point, I worried I might die of secondhand embarrassment.

We live in a world where straight-from-the-headlines True Crime limited series have become The Entertainment Industry’s bread and butter. While I believe wholeheartedly in the responsibility of the The Justice System to do right by victims of crimes and conspiracies, not every such story will be cinematic. Sometimes a miscarriage of justice is just a horribly upsetting incident for the people who experience it and not a suitable basis for a television series, and that’s okay! It is no disrespect to victims to say that not every miscarriage of justice we hear about is cinematic…

Mr. Bates will air on Hollywood Suite in Canada over two nights, starting on May 28th at 9 pm ET. The entire series will be available through Hollywood Suite On Demand on May 29th.

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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