“The Death of Stalin” is a triumphant and refreshing success for political satire. Armando Iannucci has pulled it off again.
“The Thick of It” and “Veep” creator returns to the big screen with “The Death of Stalin”, a largely historically accurate comedy surrounding the aftermath of Stalin’s demise in 1953, based on a French graphic novel of the same name.
“The Death of Stalin” is reminiscent of “The Thick of It” primarily in its atmosphere. One scene filmed with a handheld camera that tracked Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev running (whilst simultaneously plotting) very much resembled Malcom Tucker’s antics. “The Death of Stalin” also avoided the overly polished impression “Veep” often has, but also featured some very crisp camera work. Importantly, though, you need not have seen any of Iannucci’s previous work to find this film immensely enjoyable.
Creating a comedy surrounding the infamous brutality of the Soviet Union would always be contentious. Fortunately, care was taken to not glorify the regime with gratuitous and graphic violence, which veered the film away from the risk of indecency. The comedy appropriately relented towards the end of the film as the circumstances became more serious.
The ensemble of the Soviet elite was fantastically portrayed with palpable on-screen chemistry. Stand-out performances included Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov (Stalin’s temporary successor) and Simon Russell Beale’s Lavrentiy Beria (chief of the secret police). No Russian accents are present, but Jason Isaacs’ use of a Yorkshire brogue in delivering bawdy and hysterical language was thoroughly entertaining. Hopefully the mixed British and American cast will encourage ticket sales on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The Death of Stalin” is easily the funniest film of the year. The student-filled screening I attended laughed raucously throughout, and you will too. The comedy is easily accessible, such that familiarity with the subject matter is not required to understand the humour. Punchy one-liners delivered expertly make for a very memorable viewing experience.