One Question Quiz
Kate Winslet stars in The Regime (Photo: Supplied)
Kate Winslet stars in The Regime (Photo: Supplied)

Pop CultureMarch 11, 2024

Review: Kate Winslet steals the show in HBO’s darkly comic The Regime

Kate Winslet stars in The Regime (Photo: Supplied)
Kate Winslet stars in The Regime (Photo: Supplied)

Tara Ward reveals why Neon’s new political satire will fill the Succession-shaped hole in your heart.

This is an excerpt from our weekly pop culture newsletter Rec Room. Sign up here. 

What’s all this then? 

The Regime is Neon’s dark new HBO political satire that stars Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Hugh Grant and Martha Shrimpton. It’s the latest in a series of memorable TV roles for Winslet, who plays Chancellor Elena Vernham, the authoritarian leader of a fictitious country somewhere in “Middle Europe”. Vernham rules with an intimidating iron fist, but she’s also a paranoid hypochondriac who hasn’t left the palace in years, and keeps the rotting corpse of her dead father in a glass coffin in the basement. So far, so normal.

Vernham lives in authoritarian Europe’s version of Premier House, and she’s convinced the run-down palace is making her sick. She hires a soldier known as “The Butcher” whose sole purpose is to walk in front of her holding a machine that reads moisture levels, and Corporal Zubak soon becomes Vernham’s unlikely confidant. As Zubak’s anti-authoritarian influence over the chancellor grows, Vernham’s grasp on power becomes more precarious.

This bleakly comedic six-part series takes place over one year as both the regime and Vernham begin to unravel. As well as Winslet, there’s plenty of other impressive talent involved in the show:  it was created and written by Will Tracy (The Menu, Succession) and directed by New Zealander Jessica Hobbs (The Crown) and Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena).

What’s good?

First of all, The Regime is gorgeous. It’s like The Crown meets The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Grand Budapest Hotel, with rich colourful sets, a quirky vibe and a whole lot of well-dressed people desperate to cling on to whatever power they have. There’s also an uneasy air to every scene, which fits a show about a woman whose dead dad is slowly decaying several floors below where she sleeps.

Winslet, as you would expect, is fantastic. This is a very different role compared to her other HBO shows Mare of Easttown and Mildred Pierce, but she’s hugely charismatic as the messy and unpredictable autocrat. One minute Vernham is slapping Zabek for embarrassing her in public, the next she’s busting out a terrible rendition of Chicago’s ‘If You Leave me Now’ to a room full of international dignitaries. She’s an intriguing character, to say the least, and Winslet’s comedic performance elevates the show completely.

Like Succession, The Regime pokes fun at the ways power and ambition can corrupt people. I’m guessing that as the series unfolds and Vernham’s life starts to spin out of control, The Regime will lean in harder to being more of a dark, twisted drama, allowing Winslet to really shine.

What’s not so good?

The Regime is billed as a satire, but it’s not laugh out loud comedy. The humour here is dark but uneven, and I wasn’t always sure who the show was taking the piss out of. Sometimes there’s a welcome whiff of The Thick of It in scenes featuring Vernham’s staff and colleagues, who are equally repulsed and terrified by her. Maybe if there was more of a focus on the people at the whim of her ridiculous demands, the show’s satirical insights might have landed a little sharper and harder.

The verdict

If you’re a fan of quirky political satire or you thought Succession needed more scenes in damp European palaces, you’ll enjoy this. Despite the bumpy humour, it’s a beautifully made show and Winslet steals every scene she’s in.

The Regime streams on Neon. 

Keep going!