The Death Of Stalin

A comedy of terrors!

Accepting the old adage about comedy being tragedy plus time, it still feels about half a century too soon to be mining the savage tyranny of Stalinism for gags. But writer-director Armando Iannucci (In The Loop, tv’s ‘Veep’) has managed it – and then some. Like Orwell on helium, this reimagining of Stalin’s demise and the subsequent ideological gymnastics of his scheming acolytes is daring, quick-fire and appallingly funny.

Poster for the Kremlin-set satire The Death Of StalinFinding him in 1953 in a Moscow that’s alive with paranoia and purges, we meet Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) on bullying form. But before long, the much-feared dictator is lying comatose on the floor. As Uncle Joe wanes – a decline karmically hastened by the fact he had alreadysent all the competent doctors to the gulag – potential successors leap into the vacuum. Steve Buscemi’s wily Khrushchev, Jeffrey Tambor’s dim-witted deputy chairman Malenkov and Simon Russell Beale’s secret police chief Beria lead the charge, hoping to seize power or just stay alive in the fallout. Michael Palin (Molotov) and Paul Whitehouse (Mikoyan) round out a politburo stuffed with comedy greats.

What follows is a riotous farce of doublespeak and plotting laced with moments of bitumen-black horror. Iannucci’s control of tone is such that we’re carried from hilarity to revulsion and back again in a few keenly crafted lines of dialogue. It’s much darker terrain than his comic dissections of U.S. and British politics, ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Veep’ – uncomfortably so at times.  But he proves that he can tickle the funny bone one minute and cut right through it the next. To terms like ‘Pythonesque’, it may soon be time to add ‘Iannuccian’. The man is a master.

– Phil De Semlyen, Time Out

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