The Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin is a surreal, intriguing and strangely affecting work that's simultaneously familiar yet totally different to anything he’s done before

Film Review by Benjamin Rabinovich | 28 Sep 2017
Film title: The Death of Stalin
Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Rupert Friend, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale
Release date: 20 Oct
Certificate: 15

From inept ministers at the insignificant DoSAC in The Thick of It to the US-UK relationship in In The Loop and the US presidency in Veep, Armando Iannucci’s work in the last 15 years comes across as a history lesson of how to rise to power. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his latest project is about a dictator. The Death of Stalin, based on Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s graphic novels, focuses on (spoiler) Stalin’s death in 1953 and the power vacuum it creates among the members of the politburo.

And what a politburo it is. From Simon Russell Beale’s machiavellian head of NKVD, Lavrentiy Beria, and Jeffrey Tambor’s clueless panjandrum, Georgiy Malenkov, to Steve Buscemi’s wily Nikita Kruschev, Iannucci has assembled the most left-field – yet spot-on – cast of players. Watching Jason Isaacs swagger around as a General Zhukov with a Yorkshire accent heavier than all of the Soviet Army’s artillery combined is a joy.

Iannucci long ago perfected the formula for characters who are involved in a mortal, pathetic tussle between desperately trying to survive but lacking any real ability to do so successfully, and he doesn’t tinker with it in The Death of Stalin. Omnishambles is still the name of the game and characters are still as useless as a marzipan dildo.

However, that’s not to say The Death of Stalin is just The Thick of It: Mission to Moscow. Far from it. It’s Iannucci’s darkest project yet: charged by the frisson of historicity, the film straddles the line between comedy and tragedy much more delicately than his previous work. The latter is almost retroactive. The characters are hysterical until their hysteria overwhelms them and bodies start to drop, forcing you to reassess the comedy you've been watching all along. It's the Iannucci you know, but not like you've ever seen him before.

Released by Entertainment One