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The Regime: Kate Winslet is funny every time in this bizarre political drama
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The Regime: Kate Winslet is funny every time in this bizarre political drama

You know what would be genuinely good and interesting? If someone made a miniseries with a big actor or actress that really sunk its fangs into this particular fiddling-while-Rome-burns political moment. As in: we keep being fed a pablum of culture war to distract us from the cost of living crisis that is precipitating an arguably even bigger financial disaster lurking on the horizon. The fact that we’re teetering on the brink of about a dozen different crises would be slightly more bearable if it didn’t feel like the politicians in charge of it cared about nothing other than the being a politician-ness of it. They’ve got one eye on the after-dinner speaking gigs and the consultancy roles they’ve already been taken to lunch at The Berkeley about. They’re fine.

So, you know. That feels like it could be a good background setting for a TV show.

The Regime, then, which – oh, hello. Kate Winslet – who you liked in Mare of Easttown, Titanic, and that bit in the nun outfit in Extras – is here, and she’s absolutely chomping every bit of scenery they’ve got. There’s a nameless state in “Middle Europe” that she’s the tyrannical dictator of, but she’s gone all weird and exists as a highly-strung black hole hurtling through an exquisite palace, making every soldier and secretary and live-in servant bend to her every whim as she does so. There’s a new advisor, a shady clearout of the slithering yes-persons who got them into this mess in the first place, a dead father kept in a Lenin’s Tomb-style glass coffin, a lot of flags and powerful padded shoulders, and a bubbling diplomatic crisis brewing with America. What The Regime does so well is pushes itself (both aesthetically and with the performances) into a place that’s amped up and near-cartoonish – this couldn’t happen, could it! Kate Winslet being so hygiene-conscious that she’s sleeping in an oxygen tent! – which, in its extremity, becomes detached enough from reality that it serves as a canvas primed for some sharp-toothed, bubble-bursting, Stick It To The Man satire. And then … it kind of forgets to do any of it.

Perhaps this is a misreading of the series: sometimes a story can just be a story, sometimes an idea can be a fun idea, not everything needs to be about something else, surely we come to TV for escapism, not a dull clang of reality. Sure. But all the ingredients in The Regime are there – Stephen Frears directs, and it looks great – there’s an incredible early scene, a morning briefing where each and every Yes Man is trying to Yes the loudest, that is shot from sharp mad angles, like you’re watching it with your head on upside-down. Kate Winslet puts in a huge performance as a sort of Daddy’s-Girl adult power toff, doing this incredible tic, purring a quiet “yah” after every sentence, which really is funny every time. And Matthias Schoenaerts is also very good opposite her, despite seeming to have based his entire performance on that clip of Oleksandr Usyk standing stoic while Anthony Joshua did a big mad speech after their fight. It’s got oompah beats of farce and a fascinating-but-wasted character in Andrea Riseborough’s grounds manager Agnes, the loyal and dutiful servant who has seen every shade of madness unfurl within the palace walls. And then, an American sort of turns up for a meeting for a bit. They put a painting up. There’s a bit of a panic about an intruder. There’s a speech made to the camera. All the pieces are there, nothing is happening with them. You are constantly waiting for the teeth to bite.

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How you feel about The Regime might depend on how you felt about The Menu, co-written by series creator Will Tracy (who also wrote three episodes of Succession – look how excited you just got when I mentioned Succession!), a film that cast Anya Taylor-Joy as “a normal person” and Ralph Fiennes as “whatever Ralph Fiennes wants to do, really”. For me, it didn’t quite hit – the best bits were when it was satirising the current moment in food and restaurant culture, and Nicholas Hoult’s turn as an unbearable foodie bro, but it lost me when it just became “what if some mad stuff happened?”. That, I think, might be my issue with The Regime: at every turn I kept expecting something interesting or clever or wicked to unfold, and then every episode seemed to end with the same moral, which is: “Kate Winslet’s being a bit weird, isn’t she?”. If you’re into that, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re agitating for something more: well, I guess let’s just hope Armando Ianucci has something in the works.

Source: theguardian.com