The Regime Review

The Regime
The Regime
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Chancellor Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet), trapped behind the walls of her palace, rules the nameless European country at the heart of The Regime with an iron hand. In this role, Winslet takes over – a blend of politician and TV star – showing off an air-headed artist, empowered woman model, and sheltered head of state all at once. The Regime will feel like familiar territory for fans of Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Thick Of It, Death Of Stalin) as it examines governmental incompetence without sparing those in power. Will Tracy who has won an Emmy Award and had written scathing satires on the wealthy and influential through his time at Succession, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and The Onion steals stylishly from Iannucci’s archives here to provide Winslet with her most terrifying character yet—Chancellor Vernham.

Vernham is a leader whose range of exploitative tactics goes from mundane promises of power to more inappropriate suggestions through offensive festive editions, but when we meet her midway through refurbishing her palace home she is already irritatingly self-important. There are workers everywhere, housekeeper Agnes desperately trying to anticipate every whim, and disgraced former military officer Corporal Zubak handcuffed nearby. That Zubak gets promoted not punished says much about The Regime’s take on political leverage: initially attracted by his shameless brutality she eventually falls in love with other intellectual attributes he possesses.

Underneath all that towering physicality and anger issues is a person who knows how to make others do what he wants them to do by intimidating political advisors out of their way while slowly becoming Vernham’s surrogate father whose death provides him with an opportunity to implement his own policies. By touching into her emotional vulnerabilities and thereby surpassing most males around him in manliness Zubak makes himself indispensable as events escalate. These alpha male qualities not only create the inevitability of attraction with Vernham but also allow Winslet and Schoenaerts to explore that relationship onscreen, generating pure electricity in their scenes together.

It is this tug-of-war that forms much of The Regime’s driving force as Zubak gradually ingratiates himself further into her good graces. First, it involves intense training sessions that bring them closer together by way of a perfect blend of slapstick humor, sexually charged flirtation, and some form of perverted foreplay. Then he modifies Vernham’s diet to include more proletarian foods while ensuring to plant the seeds for what will eventually become her policy on wealth redistribution. Throughout the Regime, Tracy cleverly contrasts their evolving relationship against a nation in decline. This mix between fact and fiction blurs both who Zubak becomes as a dominant character when Vernham disregards international allies, overlooks export opportunities or allows the economy to implode in favor of justifying a starving world elsewhere. The Regime too quickly becomes bewildering due to cinematography evoking emotional state changes within Vernham alongside her shifting political alliances, as different ideas vie for attention and passions between Zubak and Elena reach a fever pitch.

The Regime shows The Grand Budapest Hotel and Dr. Strangelove, which are influential Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson movies, respectively, help to shape the design and set the mood for absurdity. Vernham is a rich girl who lives in a world of her own fantasies created by her photos on social media that slowly shrinks when she comes face to face with the hardship experienced by working-class people. These awkward moments have nothing to hide about the private lives of politicians hiding behind R-rated gimmickry. It may appear clichéd for The Regime to examine both ends of the curtain and cover up mistakes but it is here that the show’s strongest satire lies: Dying in power is better than relinquishing their status privileges.

There are numerous enemies waiting to pounce on Vernham as Rome burns, including treacherous ministers Mr. Laskin (Danny Webb) and Mr. Singer (Henry Goodman). However, watching Winslet act is more exciting than their secret rendezvous, politics, or enmity among themselves. There is an inevitable march towards convention – when those in authority are overthrown and certain characters die – that starts to make The Regime feel less fresh. This could have been prevented by Hugh Grant’s mysterious opposition leader or forthright U.S. Senator Martha Plimpton if they had not had such limited screen time—cameo roles at best—rather than relegating them to minor characters/parts only. Both seemed like afterthoughts specifically constructed against Vernham – or at least from The Regime’s mainstay performance.

What stops The Regime from being great are its incessant attempts to prove its excellence to viewership audiences at any cost. Certainly, there is a good deal of self-satisfaction here – Elena sometimes feels very shallow even though this clearly works as a satire about modern society with brilliant acting by Winslet and Schoenaerts. In this sense, it may be viewed as a bit of a mess, but in the process, some of the styles used by different filmmakers to depict this performance are so amazing that they become too hard not to watch. This method of blending television specials with social media snippets and occasional handheld documentary footage does not help, as all these creative elements compete for attention.

But maybe we should just let it go because it takes audacity to laugh at Eastern European dictators using stars and discussing them amidst civil war. Some parts are engrossing, others have something to say, yet The Regime still remains heavy under its own ambition. The execution is beyond doubt original and there is no denying that Tracy and the cast had good intentions behind their choice; however, The Regime remains style over substance.


This Regime is bogged down by so many ideas in addition to a great performance from Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant who deserved more, and help from Matthias Schoenaerts. It is not so much a scathing political satire as style over substance, but rather an ambitious comment on different aspects of life which include contemporary issues, gender identity through celebrity culture, and some rom-com touches with some problems thrown in for good measure. Truly, there’s an enormous amount going on here even for those audiences who like to be intellectually challenged.

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