‘The Regime’ and the Dictators I Have Known

“The Regime,” the oddball limited series from HBO, is like a teenager’s dream of dictatorship. In the lengthy and sometimes ponderous tale of an unnamed country in “Middle Europe,” there are various references, more literary than lived, to the top authoritarian hits of the last 50 years.

Chancellor Elena Vernham, played excellently by Kate Winslet, is no Hitler. She may have a narcissistic ruthlessness, but she’s also indecisive and weak, desperate for love, easily manipulated by manifold toadies.

Will Tracy, the show’s creator and co-writer, said he read 20 books about autocracies, authoritarian leaders and totalitarian states to develop the six episodes. But in its mix of satire, slapstick, comedy and commentary, “The Regime” is more akin to the Marx Brothers’ Freedonia in “Duck Soup” (1933) or the European Duchy of Grand Fenwick in “The Mouse that Roared” (1959) than to any past dictatorship.

The series plays in broad strokes with the mechanics of populism and the global competition for rare materials, but what distinguishes “The Regime” is actually a break from history: its undisputed leader is a woman.

The character of Elena gives some subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, nods to politicians from history.Credit…Miya Mizuno/HBO

Winslet’s chancellor is a nervy, vulgar, insecure hypochondriac obsessed with her demanding father, a sly reference, perhaps, to France’s Marine Le Pen. The show is preoccupied with very21st-century anxieties about powerful women and the mood swings of the menopause, as she falls in thrall to a tough peasant corporal, a “real man of the people,” played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Corporal Zubak, known as “The Butcher,” full of his own neuroses, becomes a kind of Rasputin, a confidante, dietitian, aide and lover.

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