The Death of Stalin (2017)
As some would report, there is nothing funny regarding Joseph Stalin’s reign in Russia in the mid 20th century, but Armando Iannucci lends his political wit to the adaptation of the Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s series of novels to delve into the hilariously devious and manipulative power struggle after the death of a tyrant.
Built with an A-list British cast, The level of fear that Stalin had amongst, not only his dignitaries but amongst the common man, presents itself with first and foremost, the introduction of Paddy Considine’s cameo appearance as the radio producer, Andreyev working behind the scenes at a concert hall during a live transmission. At the end of the performance, he receives a call from Stalin, who was eagerly listening from the comfort of his palatial home, demanding he is sent a recording of the performance. With one little snag it hadn’t been recorded, Andreyev panics as he begs his musicians to do it over once again while dragging in random people off the street to be the audience.
As Stalin, lays stone cold dead on the floor of his bedroom covered in his own bowel movements, his panicking cabinet come rushing in like frightened lap dogs, their master is dead and they have no idea what to do next, each scared to utter the words Stalin and dead in the same sentence for fear of reprisal, but as the body starts to stiffen, loyalty’s begin to fade fast, as the race to take power looms the plotting begins with these so-called friends ready to take the other out with a bullet if they really have to, it’s back to the playground of jealousy and greed for a bunch of men that really should know better.
The casting is just the right mixture of talent portraying a bunch of ruthless men who will amount to another thing to align themselves with the candidate who they think is better suited to filling Stalin’s boots. Jason Isaac’s no-nonsense man’s man is full of brash bravado as the pride war veteran Zhukov, bringing it home with his brash, thick northern accent. Michael Palin shines as one of the less volatile of the group Molotov, after having suffered the loss of his wife many years. Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov steps into temporary power as Stalin’s second in command, but his vanity is outweighed by the simple fact he has no idea what the hell he is doing and is easily swayed from one side to the other as the warring men spar for power. The fight boils down to two men, Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev, nasty yet straightforward little man who becomes almost Mafioso in his climb to the top and Simon Russell Beale’s seedy little secret police chief who turns the tides of inhumanity into acts of what are supposed to be seen as kindness in his bid to win over public support.
Iannucci has returned to the satire of his past with shows like The Thick of It and Veep, dining out on the dark comedy that is delivered with fervent normality from its cast and their very British accents, which only adds to the layer of hilarity in the rich surroundings of the red of Russia. Its simplicity comes from its Monty Pythonesque influences bounding from one scene to another, a satirical pleasure on every level.
The Death of Stalin is out in cinema’s October 20th
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Armando Iannucci
STARS: Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Andrea Riseborough
RUNTIME: 106 Minutes