TV Review: Regime

My loves, you are in for such a treat with HBO’s newest satirical political miniseries THE REGIME, starring Kate Winslet. A six episode dark comedy, the series is hysterical, enthralling, and downright outrageous (in the most entertaining way). So much so, I never knew what was coming next. And the craziest part? Even its most absurdist moments — such as Chancellor Elena Vernham (Winslet) being carried in a plastic-encased chaise lounge to prevent imaginary mold spores from entering her lungs — seem like they could still be ripped from a real headline. I don’t know what that says about our bleak political landscape, but I can only imagine the seemingly silly moments in this series will continue to get more and more relevant.

Of course the series is a satire, but similar to shows like VEEP, each episode is grounded in real-life geopolitical issues, including the U.S. and China’s battle for influence and how that impacts the affected leaders and their countries around the world. It also highlights the differences in the ways female and male leaders are perceived on the international stage, both in the Chancellor’s own insecurities and how she is treated by the people around her. Winslet and the rest of the stellar cast swing for the fences and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next… which may explain why I finished the entire series in one sitting.

Set in a small, fictional country in “middle Europe” seven years after an :ahem: change in leadership, Chancellor Elena Vernham’s authoritarian regime is securely in power, despite the leader herself being woefully out of touch. She hopes regular addresses to her citizens, whom she calls “my loves,” will project an air of transparency and curtail any of those pesky concerns about democracy, food scarcity, or economic woes. Elena also uncomfortably finds herself in the middle of a battle of influence between the U.S. and China, who are vying for control over the country’s cobalt; the U.S. thinks they are entitled to it because they supported Elena’s rise to power and China wants to spoil the deal.

But despite her wealth, power, and staff of “yes men and women,” Elena has personal demons, which largely manifest in her own fears of death. This presents in severe hypochondria focused on the level of humidity in the palace, which she claims is a breeding ground for mold spores. And the palace staff and government officials, including her trusted nanny/assistant Agnes (Andrea Riseborough), are forced to play along. You see, Elena’s father (whose body she keeps in a glass coffin in the palace basement) died from lung disease, and she wants to ensure she doesn’t face a similar fate.

Elena churns through palace staff, especially men that she grows a fondness for and then discards when she’s bored. So it’s no surprise when her newest hire is a handsome, burly soldier Corporal Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), fresh off a scandal of his own. But as Elena and the Corporal continue to get closer with no end in sight, the palace staff and officials begin to worry that the Corporal’s ambitions and “rural” viewpoints are going to risk the stability of the country and the regime itself.

It is no secret that Kate Winslet is my favorite actor, so you should trust me when I say this is one of my favorite roles of hers to date. Winslet masterfully crafts a brilliant characterization of a delusional authoritarian leader that is both hilarious and grounded in glimpses of humanity. From the way she carries herself to the way her character speaks, this character is fully realized and clearly has a much larger story than what is even shown on-screen. Lesser actors would have made this performance more into a caricature, but not Winslet, who carefully peels back her character’s layers the deeper you get into the series. From her character’s vocal mannerisms, which change based on her audience, to her incredible costumes that are tailored to each scene, it’s clear a lot of thought and meticulous detail went into portraying Elena. It’s incredible how in one scene, you can go from laughing at Elena’s absurd demands to feeling bad about the way she feels she needs to perform for everyone in her life. And as a fan of Winslet’s entire filmography, I loved getting to see her flex her considerable comedic chops.

Matthias Schoenaerts, who previously starred with Winslet in A LITTLE CHAOS, is also amazing in the series and their chemistry vibrates off the screen. I know I shouldn’t be rooting for such terrible people to be in a relationship, but I totally was. But more than the romance, I loved the subtle ways that THE REGIME used Elena’s relationship with the Corporal to highlight her own insecurities about being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated society and government structure. Throughout her interactions with her male administrative staff (and her father’s corpse), it’s clear that the men are trying to manipulate her to better their own positions in the government. However, she finds it refreshing that the Corporal is a man she feels she has some control over, a man that is completely dedicated to her, willing to kill for her, and willing to die for her.

THE REGIME is incredibly entertaining to watch not only because of its excellent writing and performances but because the cast and crew were obviously having a great time filming, and that amusement bleeds into the final product. But unlike some of the real-life authoritarian leaders populating the current world’s stage, I would gladly be Chancellor Elena Vernham’s subject.

My Review: A

THE REGIME airs weekly on HBO and streams on MAX, beginning Sunday, March 3!