'The Regime' Is Very Silly Indeed!

Created by Will Tracy

Starring Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Andrea Riseborough, Guillaume Gallienne, Hugh Grant

Photo: Miya Mizuno / HBO

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 4, 2024


"HBO show starring Kate Winslet as the chancellor of a crumbling dictatorship" sounds like the perfect elevator pitch for a prestige drama, especially coming off Winslet's recent turn in 2021's Mare of Easttown. But rather than delivering the grit suggested by the concept, The Regime is pure silliness, its commentary on fascism presented via over-the-top caricatures and slapstick medieval music.

Winslet plays Elena Vernham, the chancellor of an autocracy called Central Europe (the exact bounds of which are never made clear). The nation feuds with the US and isn't particularly stable — but any political difficulties are outweighed by Elena's personal paranoias, as she is an obsessive compulsive hypochondriac who is obsessed with mould within the palace and speaks to her dead father's semi-preserved corpse within its glass chamber.

Elena falls under the influence of Herbert (Matthias Schoenaerts), a soldier from humble origins who recently committed a violent atrocity. He introduces the emotionally unstable Elena to various folk remedies (breathing in potato steam, for example), as well as pushing her to make radical political moves, such as expelling some of her closest advisors, and redistributing land among the lower classes.

It's a gorgeous-looking show, with the opulent palace captured in striking shots, with characters appearing askew during tense scenes. Creator Will Tracy and directors Stephen Frears and Jessica Hobbs attempt to strike a peculiar balance between comedy and menace. Winslet affects a posh lisp that's made all the more absurd by her constant fussing about her health and myopic worldview; in one ridiculous scene, she sings a song abysmally out-of-tune while her sycophantic followers assure her that she's great.

Hubert self-injures in private and a child doesn't receive proper treatment for epilepsy — upsetting scenes that are in stark contract to the over-the-top comedy. It doesn't so much deliver dark comedy and it switches between entirely different tones from scene to scene, all loosely tied together by Alexandre Desplat's irritating score.

The muddled tone becomes a problem as the show attempts to establish a plot full of political intrigue. While the comedic scenes are light, a negotiation with an American diplomat drags on, and discussions about a trade agreements and cobalt mines are irrelevant to what's actually enjoyable about The Regime. In a silly show full of caricatures, it's hard to muster much interest in their political wheelings and dealings. Should Central Europe annex the Faban Corridor? Who cares, because it's clearly fake. An increased emphasis on seriousness in the second half of the six-episode run comes too late.

Given the way Trump-era comedy has been notoriously unfunny, creating a fictional ruler for an ambiguous geographical region is a promising way to skewer the rise of fascism without attempting to mock figures who are already walking self-parodies. The Regime, however, is neither funny nor insightful enough to bring anything new to the conversation.


Latest Coverage