Review: The Death of Stalin is a superbly written and endlessly entertaining political satire

PUBLISHED: 09:49 11 December 2017 | UPDATED: 09:49 11 December 2017

The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin


Scottish director Armando Iannucci brings us this Soviet satire detailing the final days of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and the subsequent scramble for power after his death.

In early March 1953, while continuing to identify and execute anybody he deemed a threat, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin is found unconscious and seriously ill on his bedroom floor. The illness soon leads to his death and with no clear succession plan in place, senior members of his central committee begin to manoeuvre for pole position within the Kremlin.

Converting this serious subject matter into a consistently amusing film is no easy feat, but Iannucci, (writer of the political television drama, The Thick of It) succeeds with aplomb.

Opting against forced Russian accents, the director has his multinational cast speaking in a variety of conflicting dialects.

An inspired move which only helps add to the absurdist tone of the film. Jason Issacs’ portrayal of General Georgy Zhukov as a Yorkshire hard man is a particular highlight.

As well as Issacs, the impressive cast assembled here includes Steve Buscemi, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffery Tambor and comedy legend Michael Palin, all of whom are thoroughly engaging.

However, the stand out performance here is undoubtedly from Simon Russell Beale. The renowned theatre actor excels as Lavrentiy Beria, head of the NKVD secret police and Stalin’s chief executioner. His captivating performance is humorous and menacing in equal measure.

Despite the comedy, the film doesn’t take liberties with the truth and refuses to shy away from the horror of Stalin’s reign, cleverly blending the humour with the story’s much darker elements.

In other hands this may well have fallen flat but Iannucci and his writing team produce a sharp and snappy script detailing events accurately while finding laughs in the scheming and back stabbing of the hapless politicians.

The Death of Stalin is a superbly written and endlessly entertaining political satire, cleverly crafted from one of history’s darkest chapters.

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