The Death of Stalin
Director: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin
Wed 7 Feb 7.30pm Book Now
AGE Rating: Cert 15
The film is adapted from Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s graphic novel, in which Stalin’s sudden death in 1953 serves as a catalyst for action, with neurotic acting general secretary Nikita “Nicky” Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and comrades Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor, deliciously vain and making fine use of a girdle) and foreign affairs minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) each trying to manoeuvre his way into a position of more power. Depending on your existing knowledge of the Soviet Union, it can be a little hard to keep up (“I can’t remember who’s alive and who’s dead!” one character jokes), though the film is transparently more interested in the broad comedy of morbid sight gags and set pieces than it is in cross-examining the particularities of the period’s politics.
Still, the ensemble cast is mostly very good; Jason Isaacs is especially fun to watch as the macho Georgy Zhukov, reimagined with a Yorkshire accent. Andrea Riseborough as Stalin’s daughter, one of the film’s scant female characters, is the weak link, though her Svetlana is not quite funny enough on the page.
The stakes are higher in Stalin’s universe, with verbal blunders met by bullets rather than Iannucci’s favoured (and very English) punishment of stinging, crippling embarrassment. The tone ends up being oddly serious, the comedy bleak rather than black, and the final product is somehow both more sombre and less caustic than Iannucci’s sharpest, silliest work. The Observer.