Review of The State Within BBC Drama
The State Within, a BBC-produced thriller, weaves a dense, conspiratorial web across its six episode run. Produced in 2006, The State Within stars Jason Isaacs as British Ambassador to the U.S. Mark Brydon and Sharon Gless as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lynne Warner.
When a terrorist attack brings down a London-bound American flight just outside Washington D.C. and the lead suspect is revealed to be a British Muslim, Brydon must wade deep political waters to handle the crisis.
As he tries to maintain diplomacy, Brydon and his team piece together a growing conspiracy involving an innocent convict on death row, multinational corporations, the far-flung (and fictional) Middle Eastern country of Tyrgystan, and maybe even the British Embassy and the Secretary of Defense herself.
Characters: The Brits
Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs). The British Ambassador to the United States, Brydon is an ambitious politician with a knack for bringing disparate sides together and strong knowledge of international politics. His past work in the politically tumultuous Tyrgystan gives him an inside view on things most people couldn't begin to understand.
Nicholas Brocklehurst (Ben Daniels). The Counsellor of External Affairs for the Embassy. Nicholas plays things close to the chest, and just how involved he is--or isn't--in this conspiracy is a matter of mystery throughout the series.
Caroline Hanley (Genevieve O'Reilly) is an old friend of Mark. Her father is one of the victims of the series-starting plane crash, putting a specific human face on the tragedy.
Luke Gardner (Lennie James) is a British citizen and hero of the Falklands convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the United States. The British Embassy works to prove his innocence and secure his release.
Jane Lavery (Eva Birthistle) is a Human Rights lawyer working on Gardner's case. She eventually discovers he may have some connection to the plane crash conspiracy.
Phil Lonsdale (Niel Pearson) is the Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy. He is a dedicated civil servant who generally advises on the side of caution.
James Sinclair (Alex Jennings) is the former British Ambassador to Tyrgystan and one of Mark's oldest friends. Though their political views and the death of Sinclair's wife have kept them apart in recent years, Mark is still godfather to Sinclair's son.
Characters: The Americans
Lynne Warner (Sharon Gless). The United States Secretary of Defense, Warner is the former C.E.O. of a defense company with major U.S. contracts in Tyrgystan. Her son died fighting in Afghanistan, and her tough as nails attitude toward foreign policy reflects her loss and sacrifice.
Christopher Styles (Noam Jenkins). The United States Undersecretary for Defense, Christopher is supremely ambitious and acts as Warner's right hand. He seems to enjoy the thrill and risk that comes along with his job--and along with his romantic liaisons.
George Blake (Marnie McPhail). The Deputy Director of the FBI, Blake is a determined, level-headed woman determined to find the truth.
Matthew Weiss (Aaron Abrams). A Washington-based journalist covering Luke Gardner's appeal, Weiss strikes up a friendship with Jane as both work to free the man.
The State Within has a lot going for it. Its cast, lead by the always reliable and impressive Jason Isaacs, is mostly solid if occasionally unmemorable or easily mistaken for another--especially early on, when all the characters and their relationships are being established. Isaacs, who picked up a Golden Globe nomination for the performance, really serves as an anchor here. He grounds the series and has call to interact with just about every other character in the show at some point or another.
One of the series' most effective sequences happens early in its first episode, when a London-bound plane crashes into the highway just outside of Washington D.C. Brydon, just back from England himself, is leaving the airport with other Embassy personnel and gets caught up in the debris and aftermath. The crash is filmed quite effectively--it's not grand and flashy, but instead chaotic and messy, with debris falling from the sky and confusion and devastation among the characters on the ground.
The shaky-cam used to film that sequence works out well enough, as it heightens the feel of chaos but isn't overdone to the point where it's distracting or hard to follow. When that style follows into boardrooms and offices, however, it can get distracting to the point of frustration.
Another frustrating point in the series is its disparate story lines. They all come together, of course, woven into the conspiracy web bit by bit. However, until those story lines begin to pay off (and sometimes not until half-way through the series or later) it's hard not to find them distracting. The capital punishment story, for example, slows the momentum of the show every time it's on screen.
With full disclosure, I write this review from an American perspective, but I couldn't help but feel a little offended by the portrayal of American politics in this series and especially in the opening episodes. Are there some on the fringe of the American population who would have no trouble with a governor of a state deciding to round up all British Muslims in his state after a terrorist attack perpetrated by a British Muslim? Sure, there are a few. But the idea that an elected official would actually go through and do that strains credulity.
This also leads to another potential problem with the series: it doesn't age as well as it could. The series was produced in 2006 and its character views and portrayals, while not out of the realm of possibility half a dozen years later, still seem designed for the Bush administration's era rather than later ones, when issues like the economy dominate political discussion.
Still, The State Within is an effective political thriller, with shifting alliances, dangerous villains, and plenty of shades of grey. If you're looking for a good conspiracy, you could do a lot worse.
The State Within
More About The State Within
The State Within was directed by Michael Offer and Daniel Percival, who co-wrote with Lizzie Mickery. It received two Golden Globe nominations: Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television and Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for Jason Isaacs. Produced by BBC Films and originally aired in November 2006, The State Within is currently available on Amazon and Netflix Instant.