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LIKE '24,' BUT MORE '7 1/2' -- AND MORE BRITISH.

Byline: David Kronke

Television Critic

Given what we've learned about White House operations in the run-up to the war in Iraq during the Scooter Libby trial and the Pentagon's inspector general's recent report on Douglas Feith's cooking the intelligence to justify the invasion, BBC America's urgent, exciting miniseries "The State Within" can almost be seen as the political conspiracy theorist's feverish version of O.J. Simpson's pseudo mea culpa, "If I Did It."

The three-part, 7 1/2-hour miniseries, a densely plotted thriller about a British ambassador in Washington unraveling the efforts of forces inside the American government to exploit the battle against terrorism to begin an unnecessary war against the fictitious Central Asian country of Tyrgyztan, deftly demonstrates how fear and patriotism can be manipulated into disastrous decisions.

And it has sex scenes, to boot.

Jason Isaacs (Showtime's "Brotherhood") stars as Sir Mark Brydon, a British ambassador in Washington, D.C. While he and colleagues head into Washington from Dulles Airport, a Heathrow-bound jetliner explodes over their heads (an impressive effect by TV standards), killing hundreds and effecting rampant chaos. Essentially, you're hooked eight minutes in.

From there, things only get worse. The tragedy, it's believed, was enacted by a British Muslim; Virginia's governor, invoking the Patriot Act, starts rounding up all British Muslims. Firebrand Secretary of Defense Lynne Warner (played with a fearsomely steely intensity by Sharon Gless) wonders if England really is America's ally, and she trumpets expanding the war on terror to whoever might -- key word: "might" -- have been involved in the terrorist attack.

A British Halliburton-style corporation seems to have tenterhooks everywhere. Mark's closest adviser, Nicholas (Ben Daniels), shifts his eyes furtively at every directive issued -- where do his loyalties lie? Mark's best friend (Alex Jennings) may or may not be a traitor.

An FBI agent (a scene-stealing Marnie McPhail) thinks she knows more than everyone else, until she realizes, to her horror, that she doesn't.

A British Florida death-row inmate ("Jericho's" Lennie James) possibly possesses information that might prevent the end of Western Civilization, if he's not wrongly executed, and if his flighty consulate champion (Eva Birthistle) can figure out how to disseminate the information without blithely wandering into harm's way.

And this is just a rough overview of the brilliantly complex story line, meticulously scripted by Lizzie Mickery and Daniel Percival (who, with Michael Offer, directed the series). It spirals in plenty of other directions, as well, without ever seeming to collapse upon itself. Put it this way: It has enough dynamic plot acrobatics to fill an entire season of "24," but in a quarter of the time, and you won't spend nearly as much time wondering, "Wait, but what about --?" (Though, to be fair, that question will pop up from time to time.)

In the end, of course, "The State Within" is more concerned with lapel-grabbing drama than with policy wonkishness (hence, the sex scenes); its flashily chaotic editing and camerawork underscore its loyalty to genre histrionics.

Still, there is a fierce intelligence and passion operating here.

Near the conclusion, one character states that were the conspiracy to be revealed, "The moral authority of both our governments would be obliterated." High stakes indeed, and "The State Within" honors such portentousness while telling a blisteringly good yarn at the same time.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke@dailynews.com

THE STATE WITHIN - Four stars

What: Thriller about a British ambassador in Washington who uncovers a conspiracy to broaden the war on terror.

Where: BBC America.

When: Part 1: 9 and midnight tonight, 5 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. Feb. 24. Part 2: 9 p.m. and midnight Sunday; 5:30 p.m. Feb 24. Part 3: 9 p.m. and midnight Feb. 24. (Times may be different for satellite subscribers.)

In a nutshell: Bristles with urgency, excitement and intelligence.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Eva Birthistle and Jason Isaacs are out to -- you guessed it -- save the world from terrorism in "The State Within," on BBC America.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 17, 2007
Words:664
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