The Death of Stalin is the latest adaptaion from director and writer, Armando Iannucci, famed for his work on political comedies such as, ‘The Think of It‘, ‘In the Loop‘ and ‘Veep‘, as well as having a helping hand in the creation of the BBC sitcom, ‘I’m Alan Partridge‘. It is safe to say that a lot of the black humour and satire he is known for, has made it into his newest work.
The film, set in Russia, 1953, tells the story surrounding, you guessed it, the death of Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) after he becomes unwell, and how the remnants of his cabinet are all plotting and tripping over each other in an attempt to become Stalin’s successor.
The film boasts a first-class cast, with the likes of Steve Buscemi, who is wily and weasel-like in his scheming portrayal of Nikita Khrushchev. Jeffrey Tambor is solemn as the ghostly-looking Georgy Malenkov. Simon Russel Beale is quietly and thoughtfully malicious as the head of security, Lavrentiy Beria and Jason Isaacs, who completely steals the show in a wonderfully garish and juxtaposed performance of military man, Marshal Georgy Zhukov.
Arguably it is the strongest area of the film, with all involved in fine form. What is most notable about their performances as a whole, is that instead of them all trying to put on poor imitations of Russian accents, we are greeted with a cacophony of regional voices, which is a wonderful insight into the characters they are playing, rather than ‘here are a bunch of people pretending to be Russian.’
While this film is definitely a comedy, it’s not full of wall-to-wall laughter because don’t forget, Stalin’s regime was responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murder of thousands of people and the film does an excellent job of showing just how fragile life was under the Iron Curtain. This is why the humour in the film works so well however, as while all this terror is being inflicted on the people of Soviet Russia, the high-ups of this film are all panicking and plotting over who is to replace Stalin and it brings about some hilarious scenes. A personal favourite of mine is the opening scene, where a radio broadcaster is thrown into total disarray after Stalin requests a recording of that night’s performance, as any cock-up could land him in the Gulag.
What has to be the weakest area of the film for me is the plotting and scheming, sadly. Most of it is very humorous and perfectly depicts the panic and need for action that would ensue following the death of someone so feared. A line from the trailer that portrays this wonderfully is: “How can you run and plot at the same time?” However, a lot of the plot-making feels quite clumsy and involves little more than confused shouting. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more finesse behind these scenes. Less nonsensical shouting in favour of something more akin to what we see in ‘House of Cards’ perhaps, or if you want to keep it light and comical then something like ‘Yes, Minister’ would’ve worked better.
Despite what is a minor flaw, The Death of Stalin is a wonderfully satirical look at the demise of one of history’s most feared and infamous dictators. The cast are all in excellent form and absolutely make this film. It is definitely something that is well worth a watch if you’re a fan of Iannucci’s work or if you’re looking for some wonderfully dark, satirical comedy.
The Death of Stalin was released in the UK on October 20, 2017.
Images and Trailer courtesy of Entertainment One