Review: Am I Being ‘Horizoned’?

People take on big business and tech and old telly remembers its political power. Dan reviews Mr Bates vs The Post Office for SCENE. 5 stars.

(Image: Dan Gordon-Potts)

ITV’s most recent TV show, Mr Bates vs The Post Office has made waves.

The four part show details the cruel injustice of the Post Office Horizon computer system scandal, which has criminalised innocent people across the country for alleged fraud and has ruined hundreds of lives.

A stellar performance from lead Toby Jones (Detectorists, BBC), playing real human Alan Bates, sets this show off on good footing. Lasting only for four episodes, Mr Bates is an example of quality TV still existing in an era of lazy US-style writers rooms and mass produced bingeable content from online monopolising giants like used-to-be-original Netflix and piss-in-a-bottle Amazon Prime.

Terrestrial TV still seems to be going strong (thanks to yesterday’s little souvenir called ‘values’) and, more importantly, is still willing to take risks and hold power to account (at least once in a while). I only wish they had staggered its release a bit – kept the nation gripped and kept people talking – but oh well, apparently the producers were told it would flop, so I’m glad they pushed for it and made it anyway.

Being able to tell a story about decades-long bureaucratic government incompetence and make it sensitive and fairly accurate to true events (and still entertaining) is no mean feat, so I applaud the entire cast and production team on that.

I got chills from the dialogue alone, and I was heart-warmed by regular humans meeting in (now highly desirable tourist location for the techno-anarchists) Fenny Compton to stand up for themselves. I, like everyone else, was outraged by Vennells and the Post Office for its corporate (though state-funded) negligence, PR, and lies. Don’t get me started on slimy Fujitsu…

I think it has been so long since we’ve had a TV show that has actually brought such an important issue into the national agenda and onto our greasy politician’s plates, it was refreshing (makes a change from hearing ITV put Farage on I’m a Celeb).

The final takeaway I had from the show was the broader question of trust in technology and how it can be so abused.

It seems one of the most convincing things about the ‘you’re the only one’ evil of Fujitsu and the Post Office was not the people, necessarily, nor the stupidity of big business as a concept (although I do think that also needs addressing). But, rather, I think there is serious danger in being overly trusting of technology and the now automatic processes of computerisation which seem to be taking place everywhere without, it seems, enough consideration beforehand.

Part of the danger comes from the ongoing problem of a still widely unaddressed educational gap between those who know computer code (the digital-literate) and those who don’t (the digilliterate), those who manufacture self-defined ‘new technologies’ (i.e. Apple) and those who buy into them on false promises (i.e. Me with my airpods, circa 2020).

As a society, if this show ‘shows’ anything, it’s that when people come together and stand up for justice, things can change. 

It also shows that we collectively have the power to decide what world we want to live in – whether it’s ruled by the technocratic elites, or whether we knock them down a peg by being a little more sceptical of glossy minimalist advertisements promising a new phone, laptop, or goggle-looking VR headset that will solve all our problems and help us make friends (I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this).

After all, as companies, do we always need a new computer system? Or should we think carefully about our needs (and finances) and read the small print? Should we live with just a fraction more caution and refrain from placing all our trust (and money) in people who can’t be bothered to actually see us or speak to us and prove their trustworthiness?

Ideas like these, and re-establishing trust with smaller, less inherently greedy businesses must be part of the solution, I think, for society to move forward. 

Also, increasing public awareness and education about technology is key for ensuring that privacy violating remote access fraud stops happening, and that automatic trust stops being so automatic.

After all, who wants to spend every day looking over their shoulders asking in what way am I being taken advantage of due to my own techno-ignorance? In how many aspects of my life am I currently being horizoned