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The Regime review – Kate Winslet is wasted in this mess of a satire
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The Regime review – Kate Winslet is wasted in this mess of a satire

The Regime may provide an answer to the perennial question of how actors get involved with bad films, bad TV series and assorted other projects that simply don’t work. Andrea Riseborough, for example, as Agnes, the housekeeper of the palace – in which her autocrat leader/employer Elena lives – must have thought that Agnes’s storyline was a good one. And potentially it is. As the mother of a boy who has epilepsy, whom Elena likes to co-parent, lavishing treats upon him while insisting his medication be replaced with natural remedies, this could have been a spirited commentary on the many ways tyrants – domestic or professional – can exert control, coerce and harm their people without ever physically laying a hand on them.

Taking on seemingly vital roles in a satire about power, corruption and the moral weakness of modern politicians must have been what attracted the Olivier-winning actors Henry Goodman and David Bamber to appear as members of Elena’s nominal cabinet who are forever plotting against her (while covering their own backsides). Matthias Schoenaerts, as the violent corporal Herbert Zubak, must have warmed instantly to the role of a common soldier elevated by Elena into an oracle. He was surely taken by the idea of a direct connection to the minds of the ordinary people (“My loves,” as Elena calls them in her plentiful addresses to the unnamed central European nation) and to their desires she longs to fulfil as long as it doesn’t actually cost her anything (particularly any of the national assets she has squirrelled away over the years).

Then you’ve got the pedigree of the creators. It is written by Will Tracy, fresh off Succession, with Stephen Frears directing half the episodes and Jessica Hobbs from The Split, Apple Tree Yard and Broadchurch helming the rest. It’s executive-produced by Succession and Veep’s Frank Rich. And then, of course, there’s Kate Winslet as Elena. What a part. Chancellor Elena Vernham is a neurotic nepo-dictator whose daddy now lies in a Lenin-like glass case in a mausoleum within the palace and has his birthday still celebrated despite the spots of decay beginning to appear on his face. She is, beneath the spoilt little rich girl facade and desperation to be adored, a monster. And a mistress of self-preservation. It is somehow a superb comedic performance that doesn’t make you laugh even one tiny bit.

All the elements for something brilliant are there – including comedy legend Pippa Haywood, Martha Plimpton, Hugh Grant and Julia Davis in smaller parts. Yet they refuse to cohere into something more than the sum of their parts, though success is sometimes so close that you find yourself leaning towards the screen the better to will it into existence. All these great performances, in orbit around Winslet’s sun-and-moon turn, all these pieces ready to come together, gain traction, and propel us towards something … but no, not quite.

The Regime knows it’s a satire. It just doesn’t quite know what it’s supposed to be satirising. Elena’s country, with its valuable cobalt mines, has been in partnership with (or exploited by, as Zubak calls it) the US. Elena disrupts things by trying to partner with China instead – and to reunify her nation with its ex-territory, the Faban Corridor (seemingly referencing Ukraine). She is also a germaphobe like Putin, who is convinced that the palace is riddled with toxic mould, and a Trumpian populist (making her addresses from cabbage fields and performing karaoke-level numbers in her Christmas messages rather than holding rallies and tweeting drivel). But mainly she is a generic authoritarian figure who does not tell us much more than tyranny is bad and democracy is better. Which I think in 2024 is an insight that most of us have gleaned for ourselves.

There could be mileage in the plotting of her yes-men and her husband against the chancellor. But there can be no meaningful commentary on the inherent sexism in politics when the woman in question is so obviously disturbed. There are times when Winslet slips from plummy aristo (with a slight little-girl-lost lisp) into inescapably Thatcherite tones that will send a shiver down the spine of anyone old enough to remember.

There are some good lines (the Succession-esque “His profits are fucked like a spring donkey”) and some moments that, however unsubtle, cannot help but raise a smile, such as when – while Zubak is in the ascendant – her colleagues are served the soil from different regions of the country as a meal.

But overall, the comedy and the drama fall flat. The scattershot aim at everything and nothing leaves the viewer groping for sense and meaning. It feels like a waste of a very good opportunity and a large number of very, very good people.

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Source: theguardian.com