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The Death of Stalin Review

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Political satire isn’t dead. But Stalin is, in this riotous and irreverent film from the creator of The Thick of It.

by Kumari Tilakawardane Oct 20, 2017 at 10:53 PM

  • Movies review


    The Death of Stalin Review

    Recently it has seemed like political satire is a dying art, given all the absurdity and if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry moments actually occurring in the real world.

    From Veep to House of Cards, popular television in recent years has taken on contemporary US politics and come off less unbelievable than the real thing. But fear not – lampooning politics is still very much a fine art, and who better than The Thick of It, Veep and In the Loop creator Armando Iannucci to take on the job?
    Iannucci returns to the big screen to imagine what really happened after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Not a particularly light-hearted subject, but Iannucci, his fellow screenwriters and an all-star cast have created a piece of absurd comedy that could just as easily be set in today’s political world as in Stalin’s Russia.

    The Death of Stalin
    Obviously it’s not a spoiler to say that the plot revolves around the death of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). After the dictator’s death, a motley crew of former yes-men fall over themselves to grab power. This is a truly all-star cast playing a character list of real-life people: Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev, Jeffrey Tambor is Georgy Malenkov, Michael Palin is Vyacheslav Molotov, Jason Isaacs is Georgy Zhukov, Andrea Riseborough is Svetlana Stalina… you get the idea.

    The seemingly never-ending barrage of cons, double-crosses and schisms in the film is joyous, so I won’t go into the ins and outs of the plot. Needless to say, if you’ve enjoyed The Thick of It, In the Loop, anything with Alan Partridge or Veep, you’re going to enjoy this. Fans of insults, swear words, surprisingly violent films, politics or just plain comedy will find this film much more fun than Russia has.

    Buscemi is a stand-out, but all the cast attack the screenplay, based on a French graphic novel, with real aplomb. The backdrop of Stalin turns out to be the perfect canvas for Iannucci to work with, as each character scramble for self-preservation in a savage world. And this truly is a savage world – the barbs, insults and just plain mean lines are maybe even harsher than most we’ve heard before from Iannucci’s scripts – even Malcolm Tucker might be quaking in his snow boots a little here.

    Fans of insults, swear words, violence politics or just plain comedy will find this film much more fun than Russia has

    Another thing that sets this apart from similar satire we’ve seen before is the production value – this is a genuinely beautiful film. The set design, direction and cinematography are befitting of a much more ‘serious’ film, and it’s really great to see comedy continue to evolve on the big screen.

    Part of the humour in The Death of Stalin actually is the death of Stalin; that is, that this is obviously based somewhere in fact, that this was a real political event with political consequences and that the parodic characters are supposed to be real-life public figures, all of which gives the film a cutting absurdity. Perhaps there are a few moments where it’s a little too absurd, and a couple of characters that are a bit too much. But this is just a very good film – from the costume and production design to a cutting script to a stellar cast and the very simple act of none of the actors affecting Russian accents (by the way – that’s such a weird film tradition).

    It’s a new look for Iannucci, departing from the mockumentary television style we’re used to and it’s a great choice. One hopes it’s a new dawn for political satire on the big screen. In this day and age, we really, really need it.

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