Film / Theatre Reviews

The Death of Stalin


Armando Iannucci is a writer/director better known for his groundbreaking and highly acclaimed work on television shows like I’m Alan Partridge and The Thick Of It. But, as shown with recent films like the razor-sharp political satire In The Loop and his latest, The Death Of Stalin, Iannucci can now be revered as one of the UK’s top filmmakers. And while his latest is a little light on historical accuracy, there is no doubt that this is a fine piece of absurdist satire, bolstered by an exceptional cast.

On the 5th of March 1953, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin – one of the most feared, respected and reviled leaders in history – died and left his subordinates to fight, squabble and conspire against one another in a bid to take over his throne. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, The Death Of Stalin charts the days surrounding this tumultuous event with starkly humorous results.

The historians out there are probably going to get annoyed while watching this, as it fails to accurately depict some important details like titles, the timing of events and positions held, but this will not matter to your average filmgoer. The Death Of Stalin is sharp, intelligent political satire that has been made in a devilishly entertaining manner, whilst never shirking from its subject’s dark underbelly. There is a certain absurdity that lurks under every sinister moment, managing to skillfully navigate a fine line between shock and hilarity. But don’t expect to be enlightened as to how events actually unfolded in reality.

The rather large and ridiculously talented cast, that includes greats such as Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin and Jeffery Tambor (Win Win), along with Andrea Riseborough (Shadow Dancer), Simon Russell Beale (Hamlet), Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend (Starred Up), Olga Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths) and The Fast Show‘s Paul Whitehouse, is a joy to behold. Starring as those closest to Stalin, to say that they have been chosen with great foresight and regard for the material is an understatement; they are the linchpin that makes the rapier wit and slapstick script flow with ease. The ever-reliable Paddy Considine deserves a mention for his role in the fantastic opener as the panicking radio station director.

In terms of the production and recreation of the time period, a sterling job has been achieved on the buildings and costumes, along with some nifty nose prosthetics on Buscemi, the star of the show, as the all-important Nikita Khrushchev. The mixture of American and English accents will throw you initially but I can understand why Iannucci let them use their native tongues, as opposed to silly, Russianesque twangs which could have affected the flow of the all-important dialogue.

While some of the history experts will be, understandably, scoffing at some of the inaccuracies and nonchalant take on the period, the rest of us will be lapping up this blackly comic, audacious and occasionally ridiculous take on the death of Stalin with glee. Cracking film-making from Iannucci and his wonderful cast. Kev Lovski