High stakes and many laughs in Communist Party Veep in The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin (2017) – Film review

The Death of Stalin Film Poster 2017

The Death of Stalin Film Poster 2017

A jet black comedy drama with strongly satirical and farcical overtones, The Death of Stalin was co-written and directed by Armando Iannucci and fans of The Thick of It, Veep and In The Loop will recognise his work throughout this adaptation of an obscure French graphic novel which stars a group of highly talented actors who depict the days following the death of Stalin in 1953.

It’s 1953 and Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator, has had a stroke and subsequently dies. What follows is several days of paranoid political shenanigans amongst the remaining leadership in the Communist Party Presidium as they vie for power and generally try not to get killed themselves as they make their selfish, political manoeuvres in the wake of the turmoil.

Stalin was responsible for millions of deaths with potential enemies weeded out ruthlessly especially amongst the educated classes amongst other atrocities and this is touched upon in this film.

The cast all get to use accents they are comfortable with rather than what could have been tiresome cod Russian accents and engage in the most darkly ludicrous and farcical scenes as they lurch from trying to lift a dead body (which has to be seen to be believed), attend crisis meetings from hell, and finally plotting and briefing against each other.

Some of them seem to genuinely want change, others have sinister motivations, but all of them are trying to stay alive in a Presidium that requires unanimous votes to carry decisions – which can and does lend itself to some comic scenes of farce.

Jason Isaacs star turn amongst several great performances in The Death of Stalin

Jason Isaacs completely steals the show when he turns up half way through the film as Marshal Zhukov, the head of the Soviet army, but played with a scene-stealing swaggering Yorkshire accent not a million miles away from Brian Glover’s star turn as a PE teacher in Kes (1969).

It’s got to been seen to be believed but before we get to that we enjoy Jeffrey Tambor as the cowardly deputy General Secretary Malenkov,  Simon Russell Beale as the odious spy-master Beria, Steve Buscemi as the cunning Kruschev, with notable appearances by Paul Whitehouse as Mikoyan and Michael Palin as Molotov as part of the cadre of politicians who all try to save themselves as they vie for power.

It’s a brilliantly cast group with particular kudos for the performances by Tambor, Beale, and Buscemi.

Paddy Considine also appears as a terrified concert director, and Olga Kurylenko as Maria Yudina, a concert pianist, while Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend make appearances as Stalin’s children Svetlana and Vasily – there to be fawned on as the politicians try to curry favour.

When the jokes quietly retreat, though, there are some scenes of extreme evil and pathos to punctuate the truly remarkable period which, though filmed last summer, now echo recent events in the world both domestic and international.

The conclusion is somewhat simplified in a documentary style (yes, a bit of shaky cam) but the dialogue and the delivery from each of the actors is simply delicious as Iannucci and has fellow writers wring out maximum laughs from what at times is a very sobering historical period.

The Death of Stalin (15; very strong language, brief strong violence; 104 minutes)

Director: Armando Iannucci

Cast Includes: Rupert Friend, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, and Simon Russell Beale

Summary: THE DEATH OF STALIN is a British comedy drama in which the remaining members of the Secretariat of the Communist Party vie for power in the aftermath of Stalin’s demise.

Rating: **** (High stakes and many laughs in dramatic Communist Party Thick of It following the Death of Stalin)