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Feature: The State Within

Action adventure

In the follow-up to State of Play, it’s one Englishman against the American system for Ambassador Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs)…

Look back through the BBC’s output through the decades, and you’ll notice that some of its finest dramas have been edgy political thrillers: Edge of Darkness, State of Play, Spooks… Joining this elite is The State Within, Lizzie Mickery and Daniel Percival’s tightly plotted tale of conspiracies in the area of international diplomacy. Its six episodes encompass 17 days in the life of Mark Brydon (Jason Isaacs), the UK’s ambassador to Washington who is planning to resign and enter into a career in politics. Then his life falls apart when a major terrorist incident on US soil creates friction between the two countries, and threatens a war with a foreign state.

“It’s a race against time for Mark to try and stop which may well be an unjust and illegal war,” Isaacs tells TV Zone, as we meet in Central London. “As people start dying around me I have to find out who is pulling the strings and who’s manipulating me. Meanwhile people are dying, there’s a romance, there’s a man on death row, and all these plates that are spinning eventually come into play.”

Clearly The State Within is a drama that informs and reflects on our times. Terrorist attacks by an extreme religious group, an illegal war, mendacity within government… one could be forgiven for suspecting that Mickery and Percival’s script has an agenda, that it’s about Iraq and government spin, but Isaacs plays down any message within the fiction.

“It’s more about trust and who stands to gain what,” he inisists. “It’s a difficult and dangerous world for Mark Brydon to inhabit because to expose a Western government or their agents as liars is to put their entire credibility at risk.

“There are enough conspiracy theorists out there who are saying, incorrectly, that 9/11 never happened – it was dreamed up by MI5 and the CIA. There’s all that pernicious and dangerous nonsense, so if Mark finds out that his government is lying and exposes that, is he going to bring the government down and is he going to undermine the credibility of the West when we’re at war different fronts? He’s faced with some difficult choices.”

Produced in partnership with BBC America, The State Within was largely filmed in Washington with an international cast. Former Cagney and Lacey star Sharon Gless is Lynne Warner, the American Secretary of Defence, Ben Daniels plays Nicholas Brocklehurst, and Eva Birthistle (Ae Fond Kiss) is human rights lawyer Jane Lavery, who is defending British paratrooper Luke Gardner (Lennie James), who has been sentenced to execution. The cast also includes Neil Pearson, Alex Jennings, Ranhuma Panthaky, Genevieve O’Reilly and Naom Jenkins.

“Sharon plays a suspicious character and I wonder what her agenda is,” teases Isaacs. “I wonder what Ben Daniels’s agenda is, because he is head of MI5 in Washington. And there are various other players.”

by David Richardson

Read the full interview in
TV Zone Special #73

Photo © BBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone Special #73
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