Follows the Soviet dictator's last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.
Being a fan of Malcolm Tucker’s sweary tirades and the political machinations from The Thick of It and Veep, I was dead keen for Armando Iannucci’s follow-up The Death of Stalin.
It’s been 65 years since Stalin’s death, and making jokes about one of the most brutal dictators was going to be risky business. But Scottish writer and director Iannucci’s black as hell satire executes the laughs (pun intended) excellently.
In a stroke of genius he dispatches the usually grating Russian accents and has the cast of British and American funny men speak their natural tongue. It allows for more natural banter, bickering and what must have been hilarious improv.
The one-liners fly as the regime falls, with the power struggle seemingly all to relatable to some the world’s current administrations. You can just imagine similar behind-the-scenes shenanigans in the National Party after Bill English resigned.
The cast are obviously revelling in such a delicious script, and it’s one of those brilliant ensemble casts that bounce off each other beautifully. Steve Buscemi is gold as the manipulative Khrushchev and Jeffrey Tambor is perfect as the inept Malenkov.
But it’s the underrated Simon Russell Beale (My Week With Marilyn) who is just scary as Stalin’s henchman Beria. Though his nasty work as the head of the secret police becomes a lot less funny as the film progresses.
Featuring excellent comic cameos from the likes of Michael Palin, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaac – in a blistering role as Russian war hero Georgy Zhukov, and Andrea Riseborough (familiar to Black Mirror fans) as Stalin’s daughter.
While it might be too black for some the dark comic laughs are just so delicious, as are the double crossing dealings between some of the best UK and US funnymen.
Releases: 15th March 2018
Rating: R16 – Contains Violence, sexual references & offensive language
Duration: 106 minutes
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor
Director: Armando Iannucci (In The Loop)
The film alludes to a plane crash in which most of the Soviet ice hockey team was killed. This happened at Sverdlovsk, though in 1950 - three years before Stalin's death. It is true that Vasili Stalin, the patron of the team, was fearful of his father's reaction, and tried to recruit a new team at extremely short notice.
Armando Iannucci insisted on not having the characters speak with Russian accents, for two reasons: he thought it would take audiences out of the film, and he didn't want the actors to worry about their accent when improvising. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 for the film's UK release Iannucci stated that Russian journalists who had seen it praised the decision.
In September 2017, a high ranking official in the Russian Ministry of Culture announced that the Russian authorities were considering putting a ban on the film in their country.
In one scene a young woman is locked in a cell by Beria, then given a bunch of flowers on her release. Beria was a notorious sexual predator, sometimes having himself driven round Moscow in search of victims. These victims were routinely offered a bunch of flowers after Beria had finished with them. To accept was to imply that whatever had happened was consensual. To refuse meant arrest and disappearance.
Based on a French graphic novel.
On January 23rd, 2018, The Death of Stalin was banned in Russia two days before it was due to be released. The Cultural Ministry stated, "The distribution certificate for the film The Death of Stalin has been withdrawn." One member of the Culture Ministry's advisory board was quoted as saying, "The film desecrates our historical symbols - the Soviet hymn, orders and medals, and Marshal Zhukov is portrayed as an idiot," and added that the film's release in advance of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad (February 2nd), would be "an affront to Russia's World War II veterans."