I just wanted to quickly record my thoughts on The Death of Stalin, as it appears to be on its way out of cinemas (is it me or do films seem to fly in and out of the cinema at the minute? If anyone knows where I can see Breathe please let me know!).
This film is the latest work of Armando Iannucci, best known for his work on The Thick of It here in the UK and Veep in the US. It is a darkly comic look at the struggle for power in the aftermath of the…death of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). Whilst his deputy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) succeeds him into power, Krushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Beria (Simon Russell Beale), jostle to hold control of the wider committee and hold the ear of the administration.
I’m a huge fan of The Thick of It, and the feature-length Into the Loop; so had pretty high expectations for this film. The Death of Stalin is frequently blackly, laugh-out-loud funny. From dealing with a dead body to the comedy associated with securing an orchestra recording against the background of secret police murders, the film is funny without ever letting you forget the reality of Stalinist Russia.
The performances from the ensemble cast are universally excellent. Steve Buscemi is brilliantly brash as Krushchev, always with his eye on the prize. Simon Russell Beale is unremittingly nasty as Beria (credit to Iannucci for not shying away from his horrendous actions); and Tambor is wonderfully ineffective as Malenkov. Other great performances come from Andrea Riseborough as Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s perpetually-drunk son Vasily and Jason Isaacs as the improbably Northern Zhukov. It was also really cool to see Michael Palin is as the ageing and barely tolerated Molotov.
I will say that I’m not sure how much this film makes sense if you are not already familiar with this period of history. I’d studied it in depth at university, so was aware of the characters involved. However, conversations with friends and overheard at the cinema would suggest that a quick read of Wikipedia might be useful before heading in to see this.
However, as a great glimpse into the nonsense of power struggles in this time of increasingly bizarre politics, I would highly recommend it.