The Regime TV Review

Connie Queline

The Regime TV Review

Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts have a blast in this dark and hilarious satire that may not be that far from reality.

PLOT: After not leaving the palace for quite some time, Chancellor Elena Vernham has grown increasingly paranoid and unstable when she turns to a volatile soldier, Herbert Zubak, as an unlikely confidant. As Zubak’s influence over the chancellor continues to grow, Elena’s attempts to expand her power eventually result in both the palace and the country fracturing around her. 

REVIEW: Politics, violence, sex, and humor are all elements that have made quality programming ranging from Game of Thrones to Veep. In The Regime, these elements are played for laughs as much as they are chills and provides a platform for Kate Winslet to deliver her most distinct role yet. As Elena Vernham, the Chancellor of a fictional European country, Winslet portrays an autocrat who thinks she has more power than she actually does. By showing the clearly decadent and sometimes silly decision-making, The Regime gives new meaning to absolute power having the ability to corrupt absolutely. A darkly comedic satire about the dangers of political oppression, The Regime is a surreal story that eerily echoes some far too-real leaders in the world today. With a standout performance from Matthias Schoenaerts, The Regime is a smartly written tale that chronicles the downfall of a country in a matter of months using comedy to tell a bleakly possible tale.

Told across six hour-long episodes, The Regime opens with the arrival of Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a soldier responsible for an atrocity within the borders of the Central European country. Brought to the palace, Zubak meets Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet), the Chancellor in power after defeating the prior leader, Edward Keplinger (Hugh Grant). Taking control back, Elena follows in her late father’s footsteps, as he was chancellor before Keplinger. It becomes evident immediately that Elena has issues as she is dreadfully afraid of mold and other pathogens, leading to her having not left the grounds of the palace in a very long time. Elena is aided by her cabinet of ministers as well as Agnes (Andrea Riseborough), her aide and manager. Agnes’ son serves as Elena’s surrogate child while Elena’s husband, Nick (Guillaume Gallienne) works at no-profit causes in his capacity as first spouse. Elena immediately feels a connection to Zubak and he in turn is infatuated with her. At the start, there is a distance between the aristocratic chancellor and the working-class Zubak, but that changes by the end of the first episode.

As the series progresses, time jumps of weeks and months show the rising power of Zubak over Elena which ebbs and wanes, leading the chancellor to take on more control of her country, much to the dismay of her cabinet. With rising tensions between Vernham and private business leaders in her country as well as the United States, in the form of Martha Plimpton as an emissary from the President, Elena’s mental state becomes more and more absurd. It is fascinating to watch as Kate Winslet portrays Elena as both a spoof of real political leaders as well as making her a villainous personality. The dynamic between Winslet and Schoenaerts is quite something as their differing political ideals conflict with their personal connection to one another, leading to increasing tension among those closest to them. Each episode jumps forward weeks or months in time as we see the decisions made by Vernham quickly disintegrate her country from stable to the brink of destruction. The shifting alliances and allegiances allow the story to cover a wide swath in a short amount of time which also works against the series.

As front and center Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts are, other characters seem destined for more substantial arcs that do not work quite as well, most notably Andrea Riseborough. The Oscar-nominated actress has the most distinct physical appearance in the series and her character bridges the upstairs/downstairs gap between those who work in the palace versus those in power. Each episode sets Riseborough up for some key developments which sadly are left unresolved by the end of the series. The same goes for the spouses and cabinet members who all seem to exist merely to propel the Vernham and Zubak characters toward their fates at the conclusion of the series. That may ultimately be the goal for the story that The Regime set out to tell, but it feels lopsided when subplots end up going nowhere in favor of the main narrative. This may also explain why Riseborough is the most recognizable actor in the cast after Winslet and Schoenaerts. Hugh Grant’s brief role in the series gets more attention in the trailer than Riseborough even though he is limited to a single episode.

Creator Will Tracy is no stranger to dark satire having co-wrote 2022’s The Menu alongside Seth Reiss. Tracy scripted three of the six episodes of The Regime with the others credited to Seth Reiss, Sarah DeLappe (Bodies Bodies Bodies), Juli Weiner (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver), Jen Spyra, and novelist Gary Shteyngart. Directing duties are split between Jessica Hobbs (The Crown) and Stephen Frears. Frears is best known for helming Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, and The Queen. Both Frears and Hobbs bring experience helming palace intrigue tales to this fictional story that is surreally realistic. While set in a fictional country, the touches in the production design call to mind Russia as much as England while also putting the United States in its place. Filmed in a way that keeps the focus on the characters as much as the descent into totalitarianism, The Regime is beautifully filmed.

A concise and biting satire, The Regime starts as a comedy and incrementally transforms into a drama. The balance of humor keeps the narrative moving along through all six chapters and will consistently have you questioning whether you should be laughing or if you should be scared at how close to reality much of this story truly is. The best stories are the ones that hit the right level of tone and The Regime does so across multiple. While I had hoped many of the subplots introduced focused on supporting characters had been wrapped more satisfyingly, there is no doubt as to how good Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts are as these characters. The Regime is a wonderfully disturbing dramatic comedy and a shockingly prescient comedic drama. This is a story that will keep you guessing until the very last scene.

The Regime premieres on March 3rd on HBO.

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