Biggest British TV drama in years comes to Seven

It’s one of the biggest British TV dramas in years — and it’s coming to Channel 7 and 7plus over two gripping nights.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office got the whole of the UK talking when it aired last month, creating a massive social and cultural impact not seen in a TV show for a long time.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: First look at Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

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It’s the true story of how hundreds of post office workers rose up against the British Post Office’s pursuit of them through the criminal justice system.

In 1999, faulty Horizon software created false shortfalls in the accounts of thousands of the UK’s sub-postmasters, many of whom were then wrongly convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting.

Between 2000 and 2015, hundreds of postmasters were convicted, more than 200 were imprisoned, and the resulting emotional and financial stresses lead four to take their own lives.

Despite warnings that Horizon’s computerised accounting system was flawed, the Post Office relentlessly pursued the postmasters, prosecuting 736 people and pushing many others into financial ruin as they struggled to pay back money the Post Office claimed was missing.

A scene from Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Credit: Supplied

Some of those falsely imprisoned were pregnant women, many others were shunned by their local communities, and others died before they could find any justice.

In 2009, a group of sub-postmasters, spearheaded by a man named Alan Bates (played by Toby Jones), decided enough was enough, forming the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance.

“Over the years a lot of words have been written about how lives have been wrecked by an out of control government organisation, however they have never come close to expressing the true horrors that have been inflicted on people,” the real-life Bates said.

“I think this drama is the first time anything has come close to getting across the suffering many of the victims have had to cope with.”

After the show aired on ITV in January, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the scandal “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”.

A scene from Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Credit: Suppied/Seven

The show’s writer, Gwyneth Hughes, said the story made her boil with rage.

“In three years working on this one, I have never got over that initial shock of disbelief,” she said.

“To this day, every victimised sub-postmaster I meet, every appalling story I hear, makes me squeal with astonishment and rage.

“So was this a depressing and miserable drama to write? No, not at all.

“Because in spite of everything they’ve been through, the victims of the Post Office scandal are not a depressing bunch.

“They manage to be funny and warm and welcoming even after 25 years of their ordeal.”

Among viewers, it created such a furore that Sunak quickly changed UK laws to allow a mass pardon of every single sub-postmaster who had been convicted.

Alan Bates (played here by Toby Jones) formed the Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance. Credit: Supplied

“This is the first time in possibly hundreds of years of British history that the government has bypassed the judiciary to (change) the law,” the show’s executive producer Patrick Spence said.

“The decision was as shocking, as it was wholly unconstitutional.

“But that’s how angry the country had become from the moment the first episode aired.

“The government had no choice but to act decisively, and fast.”

The show — and the resulting actions of the UK government — generated more than 1400 articles about the scandal in the UK alone, leading every national TV network’s news program for six days running.

So huge was the show when it aired in the UK that it has already beaten out the beloved drama Downton Abbey in terms of viewer numbers.

Now, Australian viewers can see what all the fuss is about.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office premieres with a double episode on Channel 7 and 7plus on Wednesday February 14 at 8.55pm AEDT, concluding the following Wednesday February 21.

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If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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