sat 23/09/2017

The State, Channel 4 review - dishonest portrait of British jihadis | reviews, news & interviews

The State, Channel 4 review - dishonest portrait of British jihadis

The State, Channel 4 review - dishonest portrait of British jihadis

Peter Kosminsky's drama about British recruits to IS means well but doesn't ring true

'The State' we're in: Sam Otto as Jalal and Ryan McKen as Ziyaad

It’s a burning question of western civilisation: what persuades young people brought up among us to walk out on their lives and join the cult of murderous fanatics who call themselves Islamic State? If any dramatist could attempt a coherent answer it’s Peter Kosminsky, who for more than three decades has been telling minutely researched stories – in documentary, drama and a fusion of both – about the big moments of modern British social and political history. His last three films in particular - The Government Inspector, Britz and The Promise – have all had some bearing on Britain’s relationship with the Middle East.

The State (Channel 4) seeks to answer that question. It began as four young Britons – two men, two women - packed their rucksacks and wheelie suitcases and embarked for Syria. On the border at night one was told to switch off his light. If this was intended to signify the story’s descent into the dark ages, it seemed premature. The world they entered was full of much bromantic hugging, sparkly smiles and kitchen chats in a gender-segregated holiday camp with a fun splash pool and only slightly iffy latrines.

This is only the first episode of four which will be broadcast nightly, so obviously the shit will hit the fan, things will get much uglier, and at least some of the shiny-eyed recruits will see the error of their choice. Perhaps some aspiring young jihadis will watch it and be deterred by the news that the recruitment propaganda is a pack of lies, you have to delete pictures of your mum and you can't phone home. But at the moment Kosminky’s intense curiosity to understand rather than condemn has slightly got the better of him.

As with any drama, an audience requires a reason to watch a character embark on a story arc. You have to care. The idea of a British IS fighter will be utterly repugnant to the overwhelming majority of those watching, and yet our sympathies are being artificially tilted in favour of these characters. Can Jalal (Sam Otto), who's commendably squeamish about beheading, match the reputation of his martyred brother and learn to assemble a rifle at high speed? Can Shakira (Ony Uhiara), a doctor and single mother who has brought her well-spoken nine-year-old along for the ride, strike a feminist blow by insisting she be allowed to deploy her medical skills? (Pictured below: Ony Uhiara, left with Shavani Cameron as Ushna)The State, Channel 4The casting and playing is part of that humanising project. The four main characters all seem grounded and personable and nothing like naïve enough to ingest the medieval ideology spouted by their reasonable instructors in disingenuous free and frank Socratic dialogues. They are played by attractive actors. One scene in which a group of female recruits was lectured looked like a supermodel cover shoot. And this ISIS is on an implausible diversity drive. The comment threads in right-wing outlets are often full of groans about politically correct casting. Kosminsky has reverse-engineered something similar. "Men and women from all over the world are travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State," an opening blurb announced. Doubtless the odd white person has made their way to Raqqa, but these recruits comprise a rainbow nation of Aryans and Scandis and someone who looks and sounds like a Clydeside docker. The women are welcomed by Jessica Gunning, familiar from Pride and Prime Suspect 1973. What on earth is someone like her doing at the heart of a drama about an Islamic death cult? That American accent is no disguise.

The main problem is context. There’s little in the script so far to explain why anyone has joined up. Nor are there anything but cursory nods to the life left behind. We have no idea why these intellligent people are prepared, in the most chilling scene, to incinerate their British identity in a ritual auto-da-fé of passports. The State means well and looks good, but no one is nuts enough. The necessary protocols of drama have doomed it to dishonesty.

@JasperRees

There was one scene in which the group of women recruits were lectured and it looked like a supermodel shoot

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Comments

Agree with the above. The state is like an advert fit Isis. Highly irresponsible with questionable motives. Should be withdrawn

After watching the four programmes it appears that Peter Kosminsky’s drama is simply trying to understand why morons go and fight for Daesh. Three of the four characters were extremely annoying, especially the females. Only Jalal looked to have seriously regretted being there and could be seen as having his eyes opened. I wanted all the characters to be killed off - the idiot schoolgirl who wanted to be a Lioness looks to have survived which really annoyed me! Anyone who goes to fight for this scum deserve to die. Anyone with the weak pathetic mindset to actually feel sorry for scum like these characters really need to look at themselves. There is nothing to try and understand! One has to either be a complete moron or just want to surround oneself with rapists, paedophiles and murderers to go and join Daesh. I wouldn't say this glamorised Daesh but it certainly didn't go hard on them either. As for returning 'fighters' who regret going or simply get scared and want to return home, they must be banged up on bread and water for several years whilst being vilified as the scum they are. Unfortunately the UK and other so called western allies go harder on the hero's who go and fight these scumbags than the actual terrorists. Kosminsky was way too soft on Daesh and very disappointing overall.

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