The Death of Stalin

Carry on Kremlin!

Genre: Comedy
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Director: Armando Iannucci
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffrey Tambor

Synopsis

Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.

The Death of Stalin is the latest offering from Armando Iannucci, the director behind small screen fair such as I’m Alan Partridge and the feature In the Loop. As the title suggests, the film’s plot follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death in 1952. The central characters struggle for the vacant seat and are willing to do anything to attain the power now left in limbo by the death of the Soviet premier.

However, if you are hoping for a historical epic that accurately depicts these events I recommend you read no further. This film is anything but historical and nor does it try to be. This is a satirical film, designed to make you laugh.

Throughout his career, Iannucci has employed an unconsidered, cinema veritè style to really capture immediate and spontaneous hilarity and The Death of Stalin is no exception. You truly get the sense that the actors were allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, to go off script. The result is an intelligent and understated form of wit that seems to have eluded many of the comedies released this year.

It is inevitable that in dealing with such a heavy subject matter we will have to encounter some horror. However, with an excellent script aided by a formidable cast (all of whom use their native accents and no Russian dialect is heard) Iannucci and his co-writers establish a world in which the horrors of Stalin’s regime are viewed through the lens of hyper reality and sometimes outright farce. The result is a film that owes more to the comedic styling of Monty Python than the historical drama of Ivan Passer’s Stalin.  It is a rare event to find oneself laughing at murder but I must confess that I did. Perhaps there is no better indication of Iannucci’s talent.

However, the film is not devoid of true horror and the final scenes are gut wrenchingly real and unflinching. In fact they are a visceral series of scenes directly countered to the style that we become accustomed to when watching the film up to that point.

As the film closes Iannucci uses the camera to show the ceaseless and inevitable struggle for political power. Perhaps that is what the film is trying to say. With the American and British accents, maybe this world is truly our own… Or maybe it’s just a hilarious film.

Verdict

An outright hilarious romp excellently scripted and perfectly performed. Truly, the film does not miss a beat. I have always thought that Iannucci was one of the great political satirists of our time. The Death of Stalin removes this possibility. It confirms it.

Written by Jim McMorrow
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