Critics praise real-life ITV drama

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By Emma SaundersEntertainment journalist

ITV Toby Jones as Alan BatesITV
Toby Jones received praise for his performance as Alan Bates

Mr Bates vs The Post Office received largely positive reviews from critics after the first episode aired on New Year's Day.

The ITV drama is based on the real-life story of postmaster Alan Bates (Toby Jones) who led the campaign to expose the Post Office Horizon computer scandal.

The Telegraph described it as “undeniably powerful and ultimately redemptive”.

But The Independent said the series “could use a little more drama”.

The four-part miniseries, airing nightly on ITV this week, focuses on the epic legal battle fought and won by Bates, paving the way for dozens of convictions to be overturned.

Rating the first episode four stars, Jasper Rees of the Telegraph wrote: “Fueled by righteous rage and sheer disbelief at corporate malfeasance that can never be fully explained, it is undeniably powerful and ultimately redemptive.

“'We just cling to the idea, don't we,' someone says, 'that people can't be that bad.' I have rarely felt so manipulated by a drama, and I have rarely felt it less,” he added.

ITV cast Mr Bates v The Post OfficeITV
The series airs every evening this week on ITV and is also available on the network's streaming service ITVX.

The Guardian's Rebecca Nicholson also considered the series deserves four stars, even if it seems a bit overdone at times.

“The drama plays out at first like an episode of Black Mirror, and it is as harrowing as the darkest of these imagined dystopias,” she said.

“If the drama can be a little broad at times, with significant moments delivered as if in bold capitals, one can't really blame it. The moments of triumph are so hard-won that it seems only right to drench them in swelling strings .

Carol Midgley of The Times also recognized the four-star series. “The Post Office Horizon scandal is such an unbearable, scandalous and downright ugly story that I had a hard time watching it,” she said.

“Seeing honest, ordinary, innocent people being mentally tortured and systematically deprived of their livelihoods, homes, savings, good health and reputations by corporate cruelty in Mr Bates v Post Office m made me feel uncomfortable to the point of heartburn.

“Perhaps Hughes' greatest achievement is making the film so disconcerting to watch. It's still hard to believe that this happened in modern Britain, that good people went to prison for things which they had not done.”

There was praise for the casting by Martin Robinson of the Evening Standard. “The Kafka-esque situation is completely humanised by the performances,” he said, adding: “Like Jimmy Saville's BBC series The Reckoning, as a watch it is both gripping and deeply disturbing.

“This is the kind of viewing that is essential because it dramatizes the effects of a scandal that has only been rendered in print.”

Nick Hilton of The Independent newspaper was a little less impressed, giving the drama three stars although he also warmly described the cast as “a fine assembly of British TV actors”.

“Going into the inner workings of the Horizon system, explaining to the public exactly what happened, is not conducive to dramatic programming. It is hard to imagine that many will stick with Mr. Bates against the Post for the duration of his four-night race.

“Due to some odd creative decisions and the technical nature of the plot, Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office ends up being a human drama that could use a little more drama.”

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