Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor
Director: Armando Ianucci
Running Time: 106 mins
The Death Of Stalin is a British film about the chaos that unfolds after the leader of the Soviet Union passes away, leaving a group of power-hungry politicians battling to take the lead as his successor.
This film is further proof that Armando Ianucci is an absolute genius when it comes to political comedy. His TV shows The Thick Of It and Veep are legendarily brilliant, and In The Loop is a hilarious satire of the chaos at the centre of the modern world’s politics. The Death Of Stalin, in taking a historical setting, proves just as impressive, as it not only offers up a hilarious comedy filled with great humour, but also an ingenious satire of the history of Soviet politics, as well as the innate thirst for power of people at the top of government.
Above all, that’s what I loved most about this film, the fact that it manages to take the style of a modern political satire and poke fun at one of history’s most brutal dictatorships. Stalin himself isn’t all that present in the movie, although he’s heavily diminutised throughout, however the battle that unfolds between Beria, Khrushchev and a series of other high-ranking Politburo members is absolutely brilliant to watch.
On the one hand, you’ve got all these politicians immediately trying to form alliances and secret plots to take power before Stalin’s even dead, and yet they’re all constantly hampered by a desire to look respectful to Stalin’s great cause, forcing them all into a ridiculous facade of showing respect to the dead leader while still doing anything possible to get one over the other.
It’s a great central theme to the story that not only proves an intriguing and truthful demonstration of how absolute power can corrupt absolutely, but also a hilarious mick-take of the almost humiliating nature of a group of grown men effectively cat-fighting in order to get what they want, setting the scene for some fantastically funny hijinks along the way.
Now, I wouldn’t say that this film is one that students of Soviet history should be taking as gospel, but what’s most interesting is that the overall facts, that of the plots by Beria and Khrushchev, as well as each of their own guilty secrets, are absolutely true, something that makes the film even more interesting than a satire that’s not based in real life.
Along with Ianucci’s brilliant writing that will have you just both laughing your socks off and intrigued by history, the performances in this film are brilliant. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev is fantastic, and an unexpectedly likable and entertaining protagonist, whiel Simon Russell Beale does a brilliant job at creating a particularly nasty and yet comically evil persona for Lavrenti Beria, head of the Russian secret police, the NKVD.
Alongside them, the likes of Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough and especially Jason Isaacs all put in both hilarious and equally unsettling performances, that balance the real-life history of the characters they’re playing, and yet manage to be silly enough with their delivery of comedy that they appear absolutely ridiculous throughout.
On the whole, I really liked The Death Of Stalin, but if there were one problem I were to take with it, it would be the fact that the blend between a modern style of humour and an older setting is a little awkward to begin with. Although it’s ultimately the film’s strongest point, the way in which the movie starts, complete with lush settings and costumes, clashes heavily with the sillier, more modern type of comedy, made even more awkward by all of the characters speaking in a variety of Anglophone accents.
In the end, however, that’s not a major problem, and doesn’t have any effect on how entertaining and ingenious this film is throughout. The Death Of Stalin is a particularly sharp political comedy that uses Armando Ianucci’s screenwriting brilliance to perfection, furthered by an intriguing and comical view on history, and a collection of brilliant performances, which is why I’m giving it an 8.0.