The Death of Stalin: Of mad men and power play



Some might consider this a late film review, given that The Death of Stalin premiered in UK cinemas at the tail end of October. But I beg to differ. There’s nothing like a belated review for an instant classic.


Others might also contend that there’s nothing funny about Bolshevik pogroms. However, there’s a school of thought that thinks that the passage of time allows a humorous angle to man’s barbarism to his fellow man – at least from a satirical perspective. And this satire is not directed at the victims. Rather, it is a pointed takedown of some of the vile perpetrators of the Soviet era murderous machinery.


The Death of Stalin is about power play that ensued amongst the upper echelons of the Central Committee following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1952.


A heavyweight ensemble cast form the motley crew of vile characters vying to fill the role of General Secretary. Steve Buscemi (Nikita Khrushchev), Jeffrey Tambor (Gregory Malenkov), Simon Russell Beale (Lavrenty Beria), Michael Palin (Vyacheslav Molotov), Rupert Friend (Vasily Stalin) and Jason Isaacs (Georgy Zhukov).


Against a dystopian backdrop, Iannucci carves a pulsating story that is both chilling and hysterical. The gags flow thick and fast. These are men in power. Yet, like ordinary citizens, a collective paranoia pervades, and all live in fear for their lives. The most inauspicious knock on the door could be a visit from the secret police. And the inevitable trip to The Gulag – or worse still, Siberia.


Steve Buscemi is on form as the scheming Nikita Khrushchev. Buscemi is back with a bang in his element similar to his portrayal as Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson, albeit a frenzied version of prohibition era’s corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City. But Simon Russell Beale as Beria – Chief of the Soviet Security – puts in one of the most inspired performances of the year. He is as cunning as he is maniacal. The Machiavellian tussle for power between Khrushchev and Beria is a cinematic achievement in dark comedy.


This film – based on the graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin – is one for the ages. But it is still showing in cinemas. Now is the time to catch it if you’re yet to see it.