The Regime: Is Elena Vernham’s Character Based On A Real-Life Dictator?


So you’re freshly back from watching the fictional Central European country get stuck with its crazy Chancellor. The entire nip-and-tuck affair between the Westgate Rebels and the destructive tyrant almost picked a side before being yanked back to reality. In its defense, Will Tracy’s The Regime has been a close-lipped spectator of Elena Vernham’s freakishly dysfunctional reign in a country with a history of civil wars. Elena’s subversion of the power she’d snatched from her leftist opponent seven years ago made her a menace to deal with. The members of her cabinet and the unfortunate employees at her palace played into her delusions because they didn’t want to kick the bucket just yet. Given that the biggest chunk of the show features Elena making a spectacle of herself, one can’t help but wonder what’s actually cooking in that odd little head of hers. But that’s a puzzle easily solved. The real question is: Could Elena Vernham’s character have been inspired by any real dictator?

I wonder how many sleepless nights Will Tracy spent going through history books one after another. To create a dictator as terrifying as Elena, he must’ve had to brush up on his world history, paying special attention to the infamous tyrants who lived to make the world a much worse place. As a result, Elena and her wicked regime closely resemble the most infamous dictators and their destructive totalitarian administrations. The Regime hasn’t been entirely subtle with its parallels to real-life autocracies. The most on-the-nose one is Elena’s father’s embalmed corpse in a box. Inspired by the pharaohs’ dream of everlasting life, the corpses of several communist dictators, including Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin, have been embalmed and put on display. 

While she’s undeniably more Madame Mao and Stalin than she’s Hitler, Chancellor Elena Vernham’s characteristic eccentricities and the policies that have trampled over her nation’s economy bring another notorious name to mind—Elena Ceausescu. Wife to Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator who was responsible for bringing acute poverty to his country’s doorstep, Elena Ceausescu had her own set of schemes going with the help of her husband’s reign from 1967 to 1989. The First Lady of Romania took immense pride in her scientific acumen. But funnily enough, the Ph.D. and the array of degrees awarded to her were all thanks to the institutions being dead scared of Nicolae’s wrath. Much like Elena Ceausescu, who had barely an elementary-level education, had true experts write her thesis, and stole the credit, Elena Vernham in The Regime also claimed to be a doctor. In the span of six episodes, not once have we seen any sign of Elena knowing the first thing about science and the human body, let alone any indication of her having been a physician. Rejecting Western medicine on a whim is one thing. But I doubt that someone with extensive knowledge about the human body wouldn’t know the risks associated with consuming a bowlful of soil with earthworms squiggling in it. Speaking of parallels between Vernham and Ceausescu, the most cheeky one has to be having Vernham married to a Nicholas. Bit too similar to Nicolae, isn’t it? Needless to say, the two Elena-Nicky duos had what can only be described as a mutually destructive dynamic and unhealthy attachment. 

The personality cult through which Elena Ceausescu got herself the title of “Mother of the Nation” is not too dissimilar to the propaganda that Elena Vernham’s regime hinged on. As the Head of State, Nicolae Ceausescu might’ve been the initial focus of the personality cult that spread lies and fuelled pro-government propaganda, but being one of the most influential women of her time, all of Elena Ceausescu’s efforts went into creating a false image of herself as an exceptional woman with a penchant for science. Like the Chancellor in The Regime, Elena Ceausescu’s priority was to seek honor and respect without actually doing anything to earn it. Both the Elenas were especially alert about their public image and how they were portrayed on national television. Even when their countries were going up in flames, and their people died of hunger, Elena Ceausescu and Elena Vernham’s narcissistic craving for admiration was all-consuming. 

Like her Romanian namesake, who reportedly wore diamond-studded shoes while the country starved, the fictional Chancellor couldn’t let go of her luxurious lifestyle while her shortsighted policies drained the country of its funds and food. Elena Vernham’s extravagant “people’s” palace, the place where she was cooped up most of the time, is oddly similar to the Ceausescus’ luxury palace. The most striking similarity between the Chancellor and her real-life counterpart, however, has to be the way Elena Vernham’s tumultuous reign almost came to a close. Thanks to Laskin’s prompt action of defecting and joining the Security Service, the fictional tyrant was about to go on trial for the genocide and the endless list of crimes to her name. Elena Ceausescu and her husband weren’t as lucky as Elena Vernham. During the 1989 Romanian Revolution, where the anti-government demonstrations were similar to those of the Westgate Rebels, Elena Ceausescu and Nicolae Ceausescu paid for their crimes at the hands of a firing squad. Had America not intervened, the National Freedom Front would’ve likely ensured that Elena Vernham suffered a similar fate. 

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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