First Review: The State Within

The publicity material for The State Within promises much: a six part BBC drama about terrorism on American soil from its own allies and agencies, with one of the leading roles even given to Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey).

In the first ten minutes there’s a mammoth set piece as a passenger jet comes crashing down on a Washington freeway. It’s a thrilling, spectacular opening to what looks like a vast series.

And yep, from there it’s all downhill, folks.

Leading the tale is Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs), UK Ambassador to Washington, who must appease the Americans when it becomes clear that British-national Muslims are complicit in the attack. Isaacs, best known as Lucius Malfoy in ‘Harry Potter’, resembles a restrained Timothy Dalton clone. Facing a major crisis, he talks an awful lot. You’ll soon be longing for Bond or Kiefer Sutherland.

Gless plays the US Secretary for Defense, channelling her best Madeleine Albright, an iron lady who loves to power dress. Shooting from the hip, there are moments when you would swear the feisty Debbie from Queer As Folk was actually the Goddamn Secretary for Defense. Contrasting the polite Brits, she’s something of a blessing here.

The third lead is Nicholas Brocklehurst (Ben Daniels), British Counsellor for External Affairs, a conspiratorial civil servant supporting his government while actually commandeering its downfall.

The story segregates into almost as many locations and sub-plots as an episode of Heroes. Not enough happens in this first hour. Washington, Virginia, Florida… I didn’t really care. British storytelling is characteristically less emotive and histrionic than American. Whilst the Brits usually excel in steely performances, here everyone feels terribly sterile and dry. Apparently several cast members said they had to re-read the script several times just to understand the convoluted plot.

Oh, and did I mention the gay thread that feels contrived and imposed for mere shock effect? You can look out for that while you also play ‘pick-the-continuity-error’ or grab motion-sickness pills to offset the frenetic hand-held camera work.

If this gets better with subsequent episodes let me know. I’ll be watching 24.

The State Within premieres 8:30pm Thursday May 1 on ABC1.

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