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The Regime: Episodes 1 & 2 Review

Kate Winslet sits on a sofa holding her hands togerher in season 1 episode 2 of The Regime

In the successful episodes 1 and 2, The Regime sets itself up as a poignant satire of our current political situation.

“It is time to show America and the whole world precisely what we are worth,” is one of the lines we hear in episode 1 of The Regime. Once the show goes into its second episode, that is exactly what we see and what we can expect to see for the rest of the season, if episodes 1 and 2 are to take as an indication of what is to come. From Will Tracy, the writer behind the critically acclaimed TV show Succession and widely successful movie The Menu (2022), comes a brand-new series, just as substantial and ironic as his previous projects.

In The Regime, Kate Winslet plays the main character Elena Vernham, the current Chancellor of a fictional and unspecified Central European country, whose authoritarian rule over her country and citizens quickly reminds us more and more of a dictatorship. When episode 1 starts, we see Elena becoming increasingly paranoid over the state of her palace and her overall well-being. This is why she turns to Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a recently disgraced soldier for his actions during a student protest who soon becomes Elena’s trusted advisor in episode 2 of the show.

The protagonist is particularly effective: while being satirical, Elena does not feel like a simple parody of any particular world leader. Instead, episodes 1 and 2 of The Regime invite us to reflect on what makes authoritarian politicians so dangerous, as the main character feels like the portrayal of the worst and most worrying characteristics of some politicians we know too well. She has a lot of Vladimir Putin, with her paranoia over her health and self-isolation, but it is also easy to see far-right leaders in her too, like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, or Italy’s very own Giorgia Meloni.

All of this is reinforced visually: at the beginning of episode 1, there is an entire sequence where the audience does not see Elena but only hears about her. When she is finally shown to the camera, and to Herbert himself, it is only from the back and in a long shot. Nothing in the cinematography suggests intimacy or closeness to Elena, instead her character is immediately presented as someone that should be respected and worshipped. Her presence is also constantly suggested by the semi-blocked portrait of the Chancellor that will come back in episode 2 of The Regime as well, which immediately gives us an idea of the authoritarian state the show is set in.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Kate Winslet whisper to each other in season 1 episode of The Regime
Matthias Schoenaerts and Kate Winslet in season 1 episode 2 of The Regime (Miya Mizuno/HBO)

I really liked the show’s production design, which also contributes to creating the necessary atmosphere and setting in which the characters move. The palace is the prime example of this, as it is at the same time magnificent and somewhat run down by the ongoing renovations that Elena demanded. As evident by the ever-present portrayals of the Chancellor, the palace that features so prominently in episodes 1 and 2 is first and foremost a symbol of both her power in the country and its volatile nature. The background against which The Regime takes place is, of course, stunning as the show was filmed on location in Austria, using an imperial palace, Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, as one of its locations.  

Elena is undoubtedly the central focus of The Regime, at least judging from episodes 1 and 2, also thanks to Winslet’s excellent performance. As the show goes on, she portrays this complex character embracing all her nuances and doesn’t shy away from portraying Elena at her best, but also at her worst. When it comes to political satire, there was a significant risk of making the characters feel one-dimensional and exclusively parodic, but they all feel like real people in the show. However, I do hope the series focuses more on the other characters in the future, especially Herbert whose background seems very interesting, as Elena is the only one that has been thoroughly explored so far.

For a show that centers so much on the geopolitical world context of this unnamed imaginary country, there is not much we actually know about it, not even its name. While it is clear that this authoritarian state has political and economic relations with both the United States and China, The Regime never specifies where it is geographically. Its location seems particularly important as a lot of the key plot points in Elena’s political decision rely on the fact that the country she rules over is established to be a small state, but the audience is left wondering just exactly how small it is and how this affects its role in the bigger political scenario.

In the coming weeks, we can certainly expect to see more of Winslet’s impressive performance as an authoritarian leader and her precarious rule in The Regime. There is still more the show could explore when it comes to the worldbuilding of the series, some of which was not yet addressed in episodes 1 and 2, especially when it comes to the supporting characters and the history of the country that led to the current political situation with Elena as the leader.

Episodes 1 and 2 of The Regime are now available to watch on Max. Stream all available episodes of The Regime and read our review of Episode 3!

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