The Regime episode 1: Kate Winslet reigns supreme

The Regime episode 1: Kate Winslet reigns supreme

Kate Winslet returns to HBO in The Regime, a dramatic departure from her previous Emmy Award-winning turn on Mare of Easttown

Set in Middle Europe, Chancellor Elena Vernham (Winslet) rules over a fictitious modern-day authoritarian regime, but she grows more paranoid by the day. Elena has been in power for seven years after beating radicals in "a free and fair election," with a lavish annual Victory Day celebration just days away.  

Creator Will Tracy previously wrote on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Succession, indicating how much satirical comedy fuels the events that unfold in this introduction to Elena's leadership style. Meanwhile, director Stephen Frears captures the sheer magnitude of this setting while highlighting the absurdity within its gilded walls. 

Who is the Butcher? 

Tension within the country is on the rise after a protest at a cobalt mine turned violent when the military intervened. Corporal Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is one of the soldiers involved in the Site Five massacre, earning him the nickname Butcher. Elena requested his presence at her palace, showcasing her unusual staffing choices.

The opulent building draped in red and blue banners is undergoing extensive remodeling due to what former physician Elena believes is a dangerous level of spores, plaguing her every working moment — the building has been sanitized "for the third time in as many months." Everyone around Elena indulges these delusions. 

Zubak is confused about his transfer and his new job that involves measuring the air's humidity, indicating whether mold is nearby. Elena also thinks she has met the Butcher in a dream, speaking to some of her other quirks. But figures like the Minster of Finance, Susan Goin (Pippa Haywood), are far more hostile to the Butcher.

Briefing the Chancellor 

Matthias Schoenaerts in The Regime

Matthias Schoenaerts in The Regime (Image credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO)

Victory Day marks Zubak's first official day, with palace manager Agnes (Andrea Riseborough) telling him, "Don't ask questions and look sharp." The day's first meeting is with Mr. Laskin (Danny Webb), the head of the security service, who gives Elena the intelligence update. He tells her Goin's patience is thinning about an unresolved cobalt partnership with the US.   

At a briefing with the other ministers, it's announced Richard Kaiser (Donald Sage Mackay), the CEO of the Texan firm, will be at the celebration that evening, and Goin thinks this is a great time to close the cobalt deal. They are in dire need of investments, but Elena is against the optics of granting mining rights as it makes her look like "a f***ing kept woman." Goin argues that "the people want growth," and the seeds of discord are sewn. 

Downstairs, Elena takes flowers to the glass coffin of her father, Joseph Peter Vernham, whom she had a contentious relationship with by the sounds of her passive-aggressive remarks. The next thing we see is a session with her physician, Dr. Kershaw (Kenneth Collard), who speaks of a lung condition her father had, suggesting where her paranoia comes from.

In an interview with Vogue, Elena's husband, Nicholas (Guillaume Gallienne), is asked about the intensive physical and electronic surveillance in this country, which he unconvincingly downplays. 

Victory Day Serenade 

Likewise, Goin minimizes the 12 deaths at Site Five as "bad apples" to the Americans, while Mr. Laskin grills Zubak about why they shot the miners.

Elena's introduction at the party is quite the fanfare, emphasizing her achievements in transforming her father's small party. Next, Elena serenades the crowd with a hilarious, over-the-top rendition of Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now," showcasing how much she loves the spotlight. Elena is not like other leaders.  

Guillaume Gallienne and Kate Winslet in The Regime

Guillaume Gallienne and Kate Winslet in The Regime (Image credit: Miya Mizuno/HBO)

The conversation with Mr. Keiser gets off to a terrible start when Zubak tries to stop the handshake (he has been told Elena doesn't touch anyone) and mentions the humidity. Elena is furious as it makes her look ridiculous. In private, she slaps him twice and tells him he would have better to turn the gun on himself. Back at the table she makes a strong play for the deal with the Americans, but they undercut her with a long-term plan.

Zubak is fired from the "personal water diviner" role and is now the "night moisture sentry," so he will no longer be working with Elena. Luckily, he is around as an intruder enters the Chancellor's bedroom and rushes into save her. Elena is taken into the medical bay and only calmed by Zubak.

Two weeks later 

Elena hasn't made a public appearance in two weeks, with the state news reporting the Chancellor is taking a well-earned break (and not the mental health emergency she is experiencing). Zubak is one of the few people who has seen her in seclusion, even Elena's husband has to beg to be allowed to see her.

When Elena does leave the safety of solitude, she stays close to Zubak. A meeting with Goin and Dr. Kershaw reveals the intruder was a builder, meaning it's no longer safe to renovate the palace. This means shipping Elena off to the country, leaving Goin and a select few to run the day-to-day elements of this regime, like finishing the cobalt deal.

When they leave, Elena tells Zubak he is there because he is "nobody," meaning he doesn't have an agenda — plus he understands what the nobodies in the country want. He claims that in his dream, she told him to crush the people who make them weak and that she shouldn't dance for countries like America. He thinks Goin and Dr. Kershaw are manipulating her and he would love to "smash their f***ing faces."

Elena decides to reenter the world without the precautions. She announces in a TV speech that Goin and Dr. Kershaw are part of a conspiracy with foreign powers that led the intruder to her room and made her feel sick. She announces she is turning away from American investors and that they will go it alone as a country. "We will no longer suffer for their greed," she announces. It is quite the rousing statement, but how long before paranoia creeps in again?

The Regime airs new episodes Sundays on HBO, with previous episodes streaming on Max. The show premieres in the UK on April 8, with all episodes on Sky Atlantic and NOW.