The Regime Review

The Regime
Chancellor Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet) is the paranoid authoritarian leader of a “middle Europe” country. In desperation, she turns to disgraced soldier and “man of the people” Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts) to become her most trusted advisor.

by John Nugent |
Published on

Streaming on: Sky / NOW

Episodes viewed: 6 of 6

The English lexicographer Samuel Johnson once defined satire as “a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured”. Lord knows we have enough wickedness or folly in the world right now which could use some censuring — but The Regime, the new six-part miniseries from HBO and Sky, doesn’t meet the moment.

It is watchable, in the sense that you can watch it and it will flick past your eyes passably enough. It is handsomely made, with the not-to-be-sniffed-at war chest of an HBO budget and grand location filming in real Austrian palaces to conjure a fictional central European autocracy. And it is well-acted, with some watchable enough performances from an A-list cast which almost nudge it over the line into reasonable quality.

The Regime

But as a portrait of dysfunctional politics, The Regime is itself somewhat dysfunctional. It is the creation of Will Tracy, who was formerly in the writers’ room for Succession, and the show is clearly looking to stake out the same ground laid by Jesse Armstrong and Armando Iannucci, aiming for Succession by way of Veep, with flashes of Dr. Strangelove (one piece of set design is conspicuously Kubrickian).

The social commentary feels muted and obvious.

Yet while the show wears its influences on its expensive sleeve, it possesses little of the wit or insight of its influences. This is a comedy that has forgotten to include the jokes, a polemic without much of a point of view. The tone is set instantly with a goofy zither-heavy score by Alexandre Desplat — a genius when collaborating with Wes Anderson, but badly misused here — establishing a comic mood that isn’t met by the writing. The comedy either doesn’t land, or doesn’t exist.

The social commentary feels muted and obvious, too: the never-named country in which it is set is a rather careless mishmash of Putin’s Russia, Orbán’s Hungary and what America imagines post-Soviet states look like — albeit one populated with accents from England, Ireland and Belgium. There is talk of the decadence of America and conspiratorial chatter about a global order, evoking the current geopolitical trend for far-right populism — but no piercing penetration, no dramatic imagination to spin it into something compelling.

What might keep you at least mildly invested are the performances. Kate Winslet, as you’d expect, is excellent: a comedic performance that feels grounded, she is both terrifying and terrified as flailing autocrat Elena Vernham, with an accent that’s Tim Nice But Dim by way of Jennifer Coolidge. Her leadership style is occasionally maternal (“I bless our love, always,” she tells her people), and driven by daddy issues, but never totally developed. Matthias Schoenaerts is decent, too, as intense Corporal Herbert Zubak, a soldier who gradually climbs the greasy pole, Schoenaerts playing him as pure John-Wick-henchman testosterone, a lovesick Rasputin-type figure with nativist politics. But great performances — even a welcome, if brief, cameo from Hugh Grant — aren’t enough. This is a satirical poem lacking in poetry.

The Regime is a satire without much of a bite and a comedy without much in the way of jokes. This revolution should not be televised.
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