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The regime’s television review

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Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts have a blast in this dark and hilarious satire that may not be so far from reality.

PLOT: After not leaving the palace for some time, Chancellor Elena Vernham has become increasingly paranoid and unstable as she turns to an unstable soldier, Herbert Zubak, as an unlikely confidant. As Zubak’s influence over the chancellor continues to grow, Elena’s attempts to expand her power ultimately result in the palace and country around her fracturing.

GOODBYE: Politics, violence, sex and humor are all elements that have made for quality programming ranging from Game Of Thrones has Veep. In The system of government, these elements are played for laughs as well as thrills and provide a platform for Kate Winslet to play her most distinct role to date. As Elena Vernham, chancellor of a fictional European country, Winslet plays an autocrat who thinks she has more power than she actually does. By showing clearly decadent and sometimes idiotic decision-making, The system of government gives new meaning to absolute power having the capacity to corrupt absolutely. A darkly comic satire on the dangers of political oppression, The system of government is a surreal story that eerily echoes some all-too-real leaders in today’s world. With a remarkable performance by Matthias Schoenaerts, The system of government is a cleverly written tale that chronicles the fall of a country in a matter of months using comedy to tell a dark and possible story.

Told across six one-hour episodes, The system of government opens with the arrival of Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a soldier responsible for an atrocity within the Central European country’s borders. Brought to the palace, Zubak meets Elena Vernham (Kate Winslet), the chancellor in power after defeating the previous leader, Edward Keplinger (Hugh Grant). Taking back control, Elena follows in the footsteps of her late father, who served as chancellor before Keplinger. It immediately becomes apparent that Elena is in trouble because she is terribly afraid of mold and other pathogens, which means she hasn’t left the palace grounds in a very long time. Elena is helped by her cabinet of ministers as well as by Agnes (Andrea Riseborough), her assistant and manager. Agnes’ son is Elena’s surrogate child while Elena’s husband Nick (Guillaume Gallienne) works for non-profit causes in his capacity as her first spouse. Elena immediately feels a connection with Zubak and he in turn is in love with her. At first there is a distance between the aristocratic chancellor and the worker Zubak, but this changes at the end of the first episode.

As the series progresses, jumps to weeks and months show Zubak’s growing power over Elena, which fluctuates and wanes, leading the chancellor to take more control over her country, much to the dismay of her cabinet. With tensions growing between Vernham and private business leaders in his country as well as the United States, in the form of Martha Plimpton as the President’s emissary, Elena’s mental state becomes increasingly absurd. It’s fascinating to see Kate Winslet portray Elena as both a parody of real political leaders and a villainous personality. The dynamic between Winslet and Schoenaerts is quite unique, as their different political ideals conflict with their personal connections to each other, leading to growing tensions between those close to them. Each episode jumps weeks or months forward in time as we see the decisions Vernham makes rapidly disintegrate his country from stability to the brink of destruction. Shifting alliances and allegiances allow the story to cover a wide swath in a short time, which also works against the series.

As are Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts, other characters seem destined for more substantial arcs that don’t work as well, notably Andrea Riseborough. The Oscar-nominated actress has the most distinct physical appearance on the show, and her character bridges the gap between those who work in the palace and those in power. Each episode prepares Riseborough for certain key developments that are unfortunately not resolved by the end of the series. The same goes for spouses and cabinet members who all seem to exist simply to propel Vernham and Zubak’s characters toward their destiny at the end of the series. This is perhaps ultimately the point of the story which The system of government decided to tell, but it feels unbalanced when the subplots end up going nowhere in favor of the main narrative. This may also explain why Riseborough is the most recognizable actor in the cast after Winslet and Schoenaerts. Hugh Grant’s brief role in the series gets more attention in the trailer than Riseborough even though it is limited to just one episode.

Creator Will Tracy is no stranger to dark satire having co-written 2022’s The menu alongside Seth Reiss. Tracy wrote three of the six episodes of The system of government with others credited to Seth Reiss, Sarah DeLappe (Body Body Body), Juli Weiner (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver), Jen Spyra and novelist Gary Shteyngart. Directing duties are shared between Jessica Hobbs (The crown) and Stephen Frears. Frears is best known for directing Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, And The Queen. Both Frears and Hobbs bring their experience directing palace intrigue to this fictional story that is surreal. Although set in a fictional country, the production design touches evoke Russia as much as England while also putting the United States in its place. Filmed in such a way as to keep the focus on the characters as much as on the descent towards totalitarianism, The system of government is beautifully filmed.

A concise and biting satire, The system of government begins as a comedy and gradually turns into a drama. The balance of humor moves the narrative forward throughout the six chapters and will constantly have you wondering if you should laugh or if you should be afraid of how close to reality much of this story is. The best stories are the ones that have the right level of tone and The system of government does it on several. Although I had hoped that many of the subplots presented, focused on supporting characters, would have been wrapped up in a more satisfying manner, there is no doubt about the quality of Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts as characters . The system of government is a wonderfully unsettling comedy-drama and a shocking and prescient comedy-drama. This is a story that will keep you in suspense until the very last scene.

The system of government premieres on March 3 on HBO.

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