The Death of Stalin

 

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Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, now turns to the Kremlin to extract humour 

from an unthinkable scenario.

 

Death of Stalin, The

Red faces: Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov (right) makes a point to Steve Buscemi's Khrushchev
  

Following the week when at least 260 people across Russia were jailed for protesting against the imprisonment of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a political satire about Russia turns up here. And, unlikely as it may seem, it is adapted from a French graphic novel illustrated by Thierry Robin. The events surrounding Joseph Stalin’s death and the immediate in-fighting that followed were no doubt farcical, and Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin treats it as such. Iannucci is an astute chronicler of bureaucratic desperation, as evinced by his TV sitcom The Thick of It and its big-screen bastard child In the Loop, and here he jostles the real-life Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov and Molotov in a comedy of bad manners. He does not, however, shy away from depicting the darker side of the farce, when summary execution was a default, knee-jerk measure in the Soviet regime. There is real horror in between the Abbott & Costello wordplay of these frightened, puffed-up buffoons, where thousands of innocents are routinely dispensed with while the powers-that-be (or powers-that-might-be) try to find their feet.

 

By avoiding the employment of cod-Russian accents, Armando Iannucci brings a sort of comic irreverence to the proceedings as a stellar cast adopts its own natural brogue, regardless of where any given actor comes from (Adrian McLoughlin’s Stalin is a pure Cockney). Simon Russell Beale adds particular menace as an evil, pompous Lavrentiy Beria, while there are unexpectedly comic turns from Rupert Friend as Stalin’s excitable son Vasily and Michael Palin as a vacillating Vyacheslav Molotov (“I am more sweat than man”).

 

If the antics of these fanatics seem irrelevant today, one can but imagine Iannucci rubbing his hands together with glee – and sharpening his pencil – at the current state of affairs in the White House. And much of his latest film is very funny, thanks to an erudite script and an excellent cast. Whether or not you choose to laugh is up to you.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Adrian McLoughlin, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Dermot Crowley, Justin Edwards, Richard Brake, Jonathan Aris, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Diana Quick, June Watson.

 

Dir Armando Iannucci, Pro Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky and Kevin Loader, Screenplay Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows, Ph Zac Nicholson, Pro Des Cristina Casali, Ed Peter Lambert, Music Chris Willis, Costumes Suzie Harman.

 

Main Journey/Quad Productions-Entertainment One.

106 mins. UK/France. 2017. Rel: 20 October 2017. Cert. 15.