The Death of Stalin (2017)

October 16th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir. Armando Iannucci. Fr-UK-Bel | Comedy Drama | 106′

Armando Iannucci’s stylish Soviet satire plays out like a classic Mel Brooks comedy. This light-footed but abrasively cynical dramedy lays bare the grasping sculduggery of Stalinist Russia with a humour as bleak and bracingly vicious as the Gulags where nearly 10-20 million people lost their lives between 1929 and 1953. Our story kicks off in Moscow, where the cockney-tongued Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) collapses in his state rooms, having suffered a fatal stroke.

Best known for The Thick Of It, In The Loop and Veep, Iannucci again exposes the ugliness of power and politics in a film that echoes the global crisis of faith in our leaders. But what really bolsters this lavish production is seeing so many fabulous actors all doing their stuff in enjoyable comic turns. Amongst Stalin’s coterie of counsellors there is Michael Palin (Vyacheslav Molotov); Steve Buscemi (Nikita Khrushchev); Simon Russell Beale (Lavrentiy Beria) and even Paul Whitehouse (Anastas Mikoyan); not to mention Dermot Crowley (Kaganovich). The humour lies in their need to pretend to be unanimously respectful of Stalin’s death while, behind the scenes, a farce plays out with  hilarious gags as they all jockey for position and copy with the petulant posturing from Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough as Vasily and Sventlana, Stalin’s kids.

Based on a graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, THE DEATH OF STALIN also shows how ordinary people were casually abused and manipulated by the powerful elite – this is a fascinatingly caustic comedy plays up the pitfalls of a regime that replaced an equally unequal set-up of the Tsars, who at least had taste!. These characters are dead ugly and thoroughly unlikeable, swinging around the vast and vacuous corridors of power, exposing the same loathsome view of Russia that transpires in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s contemporary drama LOVELESS; clearly nothing has changed in the intervening years; the tone here is breezier, but just as back-biting.

Rupert Friend’s Vassily does sail a bit close to the wind in his silliness, but Jason Isaac steps in with comic astringency as Army Chief, Georgy Zhukov. On the whole these politicians are as frighteningly convincing as a species as Jeremy Corbyn or even Michael Gove. Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev is a clever conniver who gradually gets his way through a process of stealth and self-pity. Witty and throughly entertaining. MT



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