25 September 2023

The Death of Stalin

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Reviewed by Victor Rebikoff.

Director: Armando Iannucci, Entertainment One, MA 107 Minutes

In only his second feature film Scottish director Armando Iannucci (‘In the Loop’) has delivered an hilarious political satire on the last days of the Soviet dictator and the protagonists preparing to replace him as the USSR’s supreme leader.

The story is set in 1953 following the death of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin –‘Stud Life’) leaving it to the opportunistic Beria (Simon Russell Beale –My Cousin Rachel’), Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi –‘The Cobbler’) and Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor –‘The Accountant’) to divvy-up the spoils.

Despite the farcical scenes surrounding Stalin’s sudden stroke and the ensuing panic, it is his deputy Malenkov who declares himself as successor which is grudgingly supported by the senior members of the Council of Ministers, including Molotov (Michael Palin –‘Fierce Creatures’), Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse –‘Mortdecai’), Khrushchev, Kaganovich (Dermot Crowley –‘The Best Offer’), Bulganin (Paul Chahidi –‘Hot Property’), and Beria, the widely despised chief of secret police – especially by Khrushchev.

Amidst the shambolic power struggle going on and knowing Khrushchev is interested in taking on the party leadership, Malenkov decides to place him in charge of arranging Stalin’s state funeral as a means of curbing his political ambitions.

And in between the jostling it is no surprise that Khrushchev finds it necessary to pander to the needs of Stalin’s demanding daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough –.Nocturnal Animals’) and his unstable son Vasily (Rupert Friend –‘Starred Up’).

The planning of the funeral only propels Khrushchev to the forefront of the contenders competing for the General Secretary’s job, concluding in a deadly battle with Beria following the support provided by army chief Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs –‘Fury’).

By the conclusion of this satirical comedy the scheming Nikita Khrushchev has achieved his goal in a way that would bedevil many of the true believers.

By adapting the graphic comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, British satirist Iannucci has been able to bring his enjoyable farcical story to the big screen which has proven to be both entertaining and extremely funny.

In acknowledging the assembling of a great British cast one cannot go past the perfectly-pitched performances of Buscemi (Khrushchev), Isaacs (Zhukov), McLoughlin (Stalin), Russell Beale (Beria) and Tambor (Malenkov).

The comments on the movie poster sum it up – “no one can hear you scheme in the Kremlin” and it is “A Comedy of Terrors”.

Vic’s Verdict: 4 Stars

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