The Death of Stalin: Film Review
The Death of Stalin is a hilarious satirical comedy set in the distinctly unfunny setting of 1953 Moscow.
Armando Iannucci, the man behind VEEP and The Thick of It, writes and directs the film which follows senior members of the Soviet Communist Party during the period just before and after Joseph Stalin’s death.
It captures the fear which characterised Stalin’s reign as well as shining a light on the dysfunction behind the Soviet Union’s authoritarian regime.
The film opens as Stalin suffers what proves to be a fatal stroke and his colleagues battle to find a doctor in Moscow, with most having already been purged.
Even after his death, the fear Stalin instilled in his people remains. Communist Party members are desperate to toe the party line, even as it changes from one minute to the next.
A superb cast of accomplished actors ensures the quickfire dialogue is chock-full of subtle jokes and witty one-liners. The interactions between Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), in particular, provides some highlights.
The subtlety of satirising the Soviet bureaucracy somewhat gives way when the Head of the Soviet Army, Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), arrives about halfway through the film. His brashness does away with all the subtleties but none of the laughs, as Isaacs provides some of the film’s funniest moments.
Unusually, all actors speak in their native accents throughout the film, with not a Russian accent to be heard. This means Moscow is filled with a sea of British and American accents. At times this can make it easy to forget where the film is set, with the action feeling much closer to home.
The film recreates the Soviet culture of fear well, with death never far away. The Great Purge plays out in the background and various members of staff are shot at the drop of the hat.
The film is a dark comedy and at times the deaths are hilariously absurd, yet you get the feeling that each one is based in fact and that does leave an impression.
You will certainly have plenty of laughs watching the film, but it is an understanding of the fear present during Stalin’s reign of terror that sticks with you as you leave the cinema.
The Death of Stalin is certainly worth watching, both for the laughs and an insight into life in a Stalin-era Soviet Union.