Pras on World Films: THE STATE WITHIN

The State Within  (Miniseries — BBC America)

A hastily assembled bomb, an airliner exploding over Washington, a British Muslim suspect, a Virginia governor using the Patriot Act to round up all British Muslims he can find, a conscientious British ambassador, his number two having a gay affair with a National Security Agency official, a maverick diplomat from Tyrgyztan, a hawkish US Secretary of State and a Falklands War hero on Death Row.

“The State Within”, this 7 1/2-hour British terrorism miniseries- is challengingly cerebral  and at times almost painfully visceral – recalls “24” in its pacing, twists, and subject matter–is actually set mainly in Washington, D.C.  “The State Within” starts with an airplane crashing outside of Washington, DC, strewing debris all over the Dulles Toll Road.  Caught in its wake is British Ambassador Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs) who futilely tries to rescue a trapped motorist before being dragged away by his intelligence officer Nicholas Brocklehurst(Ben Daniels). Intelligence suggests the attack was the work of a British suicide bomber, prompting Virginia’s governor to begin rounding up British Muslims in his state. No less bellicose is the U.S. secretary of defense, Lynne Warner (Sharon Gless, with a perpetual Donald Rumsfeld snarl), though her close ties to a major defense contractor indicate something more could be at work.

Reinforcing the U.K.’s role as the sober diplomat to the United States’ raging Neanderthal, Sir Mark gets drawn into a plan to broker negotiations between the U.S. and an opponent of the ruthless president of Tyrgyztan. British lawyer Jane Lavery (Eva Birthistle), meanwhile, is seeking to prevent the execution of British national Luke Gardner (“Jericho’s” Lennie James), who has a shadowy past that will be revealed eventually (and much too late), pointing toward a major plot to trigger a war in Central Asia, thus benefiting a Halliburton-like defense contractor.

Ah, but if only that were the end of the plots and subplots. Instead, writers Lizzie Mickery (of the brilliant “Messiah” series) and Daniel Percival lay on improbable layers, from Brydon’s mysterious “Is he friend or foe?” right-hand man (Ben Daniels) to the ambassador’s ties to disgraced diplomat James Sinclair (Alex Jennings) to various operatives eliminating peripheral players to prevent “the truth” from coming out.

With his piercing eyes and tough-guy charm, Isaacs is a compelling lead, but he’s shackled by Sir Mark’s passivity and cluelessness before he unconvincingly leaps into action in the later chapters. And while there’s nothing wrong with a plot where “the entire credibility of Western governments is at stake,” there’s something awfully stale about shadowy corporations (think the remake of “The Manchurian Candidate”) murdering people with impunity just to bolster their balance sheets.

Filmed in Toronto by the BBC and BBC America. Executive producers, Jessica Pope, Kathryn Mitchell; producer, Grainne Marmion; directors, Michael Otter, Daniel Percival; writers, Lizzie Mickery, Percival.

Sir Mark Brydon – Jason Isaacs Lynne Warner – Sharon Gless Nicholas Brocklehurst – Ben Daniels Jane Lavery – Eva Birthistle Phil Lonsdale – Neil Pearson Luke Gardner – Lennie James Caroline Hanley – Genevieve O’Reilly James Sinclair – Alex Jennings Christopher Styles – Noam Jenkins Carlos Garcia – Ron Lea Charles MacIntyre – Nigel Bennett


1. Episode 1: A British plane crashes in America, sparking off a national emergency and a diplomatic crisis. It emerges the incident was the work of a British suicide bomber. With the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US under threat, the British Ambassador, Sir Mark Brydon, maneuvers American Secretary of Defense, Lynne Warner, into a public show of solidarity. But behind the scenes, tension mounts between the pair. The situation worsens when the Governor of Virginia passes emergency legislation allowing the Virginia National Guard to apprehend and imprison all British Asians in the State.
2. Episode 2: The British Embassy in Washington is besieged by British nationals seeking sanctuary from the Governor of Virginia’s draconian policy to round up all British Muslims in the state. Ambassador Mark Brydon is happy to offer it. But as his level-headed deputy Phil Lonsdale reminds him, there’s a bigger picture. Priority must be to get the policy reversed. Mark thinks it through – it’s a high risk strategy but Chair of the Security Committee Madeleine Cohen might be open to persuasion. His meeting with her is tough to read – has he helped British citizens or made things worse?
3. Episode 3: Charles Macintyre is threatening to file an official complaint about the FBI’s handling of his ‘entirely legitimate business operation’. He then meets with his co-conspirator – Christopher Styles. Later Macintyre flies a kite with Nicholas Brocklehurst.  Meanwhile, Mark spins a proposition to Carl Garcia. Support for the rogue regime in Tyrgyztan is becoming untenable. The UK/US should consider an approach to the democratic opposition. Mark’s in a position to make it happen…
4. Episode 4: Following Luke Gardner’s death, the letter he left for Jane Lavery takes her to Al Rivero’s house in search of Luke’s ‘kit’. After a scary moment when a nervous Al pulls a gun on her Jane receives the package Luke sent her for – the package that will explain everything.
5. Episode 5: Defense Secretary Warner is well and truly on the warpath – on her way to the UN to make the case for regime change in Tyrgyztan. If they can get a resolution there will be US planes in Central Asia by nightfall. Mark meanwhile is in a dark place. Eshan has been murdered. Downing Street are recalling him to London. Just as it seems that his career is over a lifeline is thrown from an unexpected place. Defense Secretary Warner calls to say that the White House would be unhappy to see Mark Brydon removed from office. Mark’s deputy Phil Lonsdale is forced to stand by his boss.
6. Episode 6: Warner’s ready to put troops on the ground in Tyrgyztan. Her adviser, Carl urges patience and caution and all but accuses her of profiteering if her husband still has shares in Armitage. At the Pentagon events are catching up with Warner’s right hand man Christopher Styles. George Blake has been doggedly piecing together the shards of evidence from all the apparently unrelated stories. She’s close to something now. One of the men in the car crash with Jane carried Defense Intelligence department ID. What does Christopher know about Vinnie Swain?


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