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Kate Winslet Performs Terrible Karaoke as a World Leader in ‘The Regime’

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Middle Europe, sometime in the 2020s: Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet) is chancellor of a vague nation. Unrest strikes the country’s highly profitable cobalt mines. Military men massacre a dozen miners after riots strike the work sites. Mold has infiltrated the chancellor’s castle. But this too shall pass, right?

In the premiere episode of The Regime, HBO’s splashy new drama, Elena needs to do damage control following the “Butchers of Site 5”—the miner murders—scandal. She can’t become the enemy of her nation’s military, so she can’t denounce their actions; instead, she hires one of the killers, Corporal Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), in a minor role on her staff. Because Elena fears she’s allergic to the mold spores growing in her castle, Herbert will follow the chancellor everywhere she goes, testing each room for moisture levels. He’s kind of like the dozens of police you see on every New York subway platform these days: somewhat dangerous, and wholly useless.

Herbert is a known killer, palace manager Agnes (Andrea Riseborough) warns the other employees. Alas, the chancellor has demanded Herbert’s presence. After so much hustle and bustle around the castle, when Elena and Herbert finally meet, it feels like a dreamy rom-com. In fact, Elena claims to have seen Herbert before in some sort of dream. They lock eyes. It’s…romantic? Maybe? It’s off-putting, for sure, but there’s some sort of tension present between the two. Elena demands that Herbert, who remains silent almost the entire time, “strive to have a graceful mind,” whatever that means.

Then, she’s done with him. “Let’s have you leave now,” she says, because chancellors speak like wordy robots instead of real human beings. Elena records a public service announcement to the residents of her nation—we never get the name of this vague European state—and calls it a day.

Meanwhile, several buildings over in the workers corridor, Herbert is shown his bedroom and told to purchase vats of moisturizer, because the mold dehumidifiers turn skin into “a mummy’s asshole,” per a palace staffer.

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The next day is so-called “Victory Day,” a celebratory occasion to mark the anniversary of Elena being elected chancellor and beating the other guy, Edward Keplinger—or “the rat,” as everyone around the castle calls him. Herbert awakes, vomits (presumably due to the dry air, or maybe whatever drugs the palace has given him to sedate his violent ways), and works out before he meets Agnes for more briefing. Does Herbert have the floor plan memorized? He thinks so. “She hates doubt,” Agnes scolds, suggesting that Herbert should be more sure of himself. So long as Herbert asks no questions, he won’t end up like “the last guy.”

Kate Winslet drinks a cup of tea as she walks with Andrea Riseborough in a still from ‘The Regime’

Andrea Riseborough and Kate Winslet.

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Elena’s staffers give her a rundown for the day: She has a meeting with her cabinet, her French husband, Nicholas (Guillaume Gallienne), is having an interview with Vogue, and there will be a banquet to impress American investors held in the evening. Herbert stalks Elena with his mold device, which looks kind of like a giant metal detector that you wave around in the air, into every room. When he walks in with Elena for her cabinet meeting, her staffers groan. “It’s like a dog using a calculator,” one snips.

Most of Elena’s cabinet is in agreement: The nation needs to grant America rights to their cobalt mines, which would result in a skyrocketing GDP. The people want growth. But Elena isn’t convinced, especially because she doesn’t think her wealthy, upper-class cabinet has any idea what “the people” want. But the chancellor will play along—for now.

Herbert follows Elena down to the catacombs of her mansion, where her father, the late Joseph Vernham, has been laid to rest in a glass tomb. Elena teases her father, who started the political party she is now the leader of, for never being elected chancellor. “They loved me much more than they ever loved you,” she quips. Elena hates that her dead dad is covered in dark spots, but Herbert reassures her: The mold levels are low in these parts. Elena’s father is where her germaphobia comes from; he died of lung disease, and she’s now terrified that if her air isn’t purified, she’ll meet the same fate.

A close up of Guillaume Gallienne drinking tea in ‘The Regime’

Guillaume Gallienne.

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As Elena readies herself for the banquet, she whines about how much she hates events. She wants to rid herself of those filthy Americans. Herbert agrees, one of the first real things he’s actually said, putting a smirk on Elena’s face. When Herbert arrives at the function—without Elena, who is preparing herself for a big performance—Agnes warns him: He’ll need to tell Elena the moisture level, but discreetly; otherwise, she’ll look like a mockery to her American visitors.

There’s a bunch of chatter about the unrest in the mines. In Nicholas’ interview with Vogue, the reporter asks about it, but Nicholas immediately shuts down the conversation to talk about his national poetry NGO instead. At the banquet, Herbert overhears some Americans talking. Were there actually riots, or was there just increased talk about the bad air quality—and did the military panic and start shooting the moment they feared there would be backlash?

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The conversation is all halted when Elena comes on stage with a terrible rendition of “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago. And we thought Joe Biden’s ice cream addiction was cringy—imagine your world leader failing to harmonize with a band while sashaying awkwardly in an ill-fitting dress. Herbert is entranced. The crowd gives her a standing ovation. I would kill to see how the royal family would react to King Charles doing something like this.

Elena grabs a seat with the Americans, who gripe about the lamb dinner—they’re pescatarians. Maybe Elena shouldn’t have shot down the chef when he presented a salmon entrée three hours earlier. Too late now. The American business people offer up a 30-percent stake in mining rights, although they eventually want to advance to a majority stake. Elena is upset with this idea; she doesn’t want to have to reach out to these Yanks every time she needs access to her mines. But she’s interrupted by Herbert, who announces the humidity percentage to the table.

Elena excuses herself and asks Herbert to follow him out. She slaps him, infuriated. “You made me look ridiculous in front of the Americans,” she whisper-shouts. “I am not ridiculous. I am very much not ridiculous!” Surely!

In light of his failure at the gala, Herbert is demoted to night moisture checker; now, he’ll have no interactions with Elena. He’ll never see her face again. But on his first night monitoring the floors for mold poisoning, Herbert spots something else. There is an intruder in the palace heading for Elena’s room, and right as the masked fellow is about to sink a dagger into Elena’s heart, Herbert stops him.

Matthias Schoenaerts pats Kate Winslet’s chest in a still from ‘The Regime’

Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts.

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Elena has a panic attack—she’s not worried about being assassinated, but she is peeved that she breathed the same air as the assailant—and is escorted to the infirmary. There, she squeezes Herbert’s arm and releases her husband’s hand. There’s a new man in town, one who can actually protect her.

The chancellor then goes two weeks without a public appearance, hiding out in her room with a zillion medical devices hooked up to her lungs. Nicholas begs Elena to come back to the real world, to be her real self again, but she insists that this is how she’s always been: “You just couldn’t see me yet.”

Finally, with the help of Herbert—who was the only person granted complete clearance to visit her in quarantine—Elena returns to the public eye. She learns that the man who attacked her was a former cobalt miner. But she has no idea how to fix everything, so she consults Herbert, the only person she trusts. He can tell her what the “nobodies” of the nation want.

Herbert tells her to ditch the deal with America. “They are laughing at us because you dance for foreign cash like a sick fucking bear at the circus,” he shouts. “That’s what everybody is saying out there.” Herbert is like a madman, shouting about pigs and fucking and fucking pigs. His biggest piece of advice: Fire everyone around her. They are the ones killing her, not the mold.

Elena is back in power. She makes an announcement to the people of their nation: She’s fired a bunch of her staffers because she believes they’ve been weakening her immune system and her power, and they were responsible for the assassination attempt. These people have been advising her to make a deal with America, which is a bad idea, so this country is going to reject America’s deal.

The chancellor wraps her message with a call to her people, which could either inspire them to step up or start some sort of dangerous movement in the country: “It is time to show America and the world precisely what we are worth.”

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