The Death of Stalin: a comedy of terrors
It is not a spoiler to say that Stalin dies in this film. The title is a giveaway in that regard. The Death of Stalin is Armando Iannucci's latest big screen offering which he co-writes and directs. Anyone familiar with his oeuvre (In The Loop, The Thick of It, VEEP, etc) will know his ability to write and direct in an honest, no-holds-barred, irreverent, bleak and black fashion with a sharp understanding of politics and what makes politician's tick. This film is all of those things.
The film introduces us to Stalin and the other members of the ruling council in the USSR. As the title suggests, Stalin dies and then the film descends into a political struggle for succession and power. Iannucci does not shy away from the painful aspects; the murder lists, the abductions, the torture, the rape and abuse of protesters or suspected protestors. From that perspective, parts of this film are cruel and difficult to watch. However Iannucci juxtaposes the horror with comedy. Who can forget the brilliant character of Malcolm Tucker? He was brutal and ruthless but also possessed a dark sense of humour in The Thick of It.
Iannucci pulls off the combination of bleak topic and dark humour. He has lined up a stellar cast including Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Simon Russell Beale together with a scene-stealing and chewing Jason Isaacs. To highlight a single performance would not do this ensemble justice. They are all equally on top of their game and bring each of the characters to life in a delicious way.
Let's talk about accents. At the screening I attended some complained that the actors spoke in their native accents, British or USA. FOr me, it is a slight distraction but much less than everyone speaking in a dreadful Russian stereotypical accent. Isaacs choice of using a Yorkshire accent is at first surprising but he carries it off well. His bombastic character Field Marshall Zhukov is wonderful.
I'll be honest. This film will divide audiences. Some will be disappointed that it was not funnier, some that it was too funny for such a bleak topic. However I believe what Iannucci was trying to do was to send up politician's and to show them for what they are; power-hungry operators. The film is historically accurate and the only spoiler for me was that I knew who eventually succeeded Stalin.
Go with an open mind. Be prepared to be shocked and to laugh at the futility and terror of politics.
3.5 out of 5