Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Death Of Stalin Film Review

To describe The Death Of Stalin as a black comedy would be to blithely state the fact that Stalin killed people. Or rather made lists of people that he wanted other people to kill. Written and directed by Armando Iannucci it's a riotous Russian farce. With a cast of some of our greatest actors up to their eyes in intrigue and terror. It was not a happy time for Russian political history. With Michael Palin's Molotov on the next list. And not for cocktails. Stalin's inner circle are jockeying for position, Nikita Khrushchev, played by Steve Buscemi, goes home to his wife who keeps score of the jokes that worked with Stalin, and those that didn't. It's terrifying and that banal.


One night Stalin is enjoying the concert presided over by Paddy Considine at Radio Moscow, so much so that he now wants the recording. It was not recorded. So in a panic passing peasants are dragged in off the street, to fill the seats of the departed audience. Fat ones preferably as the acoustics are better. Famine stalked Russia so that may be difficult. A new conductor is dragged from his bed still in pyjamas. Stalin won't know the difference. And for god's sake clap.



The pianist Maria Yudina, played by the very beautiful Olga Kurylenko, adds her own message into the record sleeve. She is not a fan. Coincidently upon reading the note, which he seemed to take in good humour, poor Stalin, played by Adrian Mcloughlin, suffers a massive stroke. Mobilising his Central Committee into action. First on the scene is Simon Russell Beale. His Head of Security Lavrentiy Beria is a tyrant who enjoy raping, and carrying out Stalin's murders with relish. Enjoying his role and praising the patriotic wives of Mother Russia who go like sewing machines, and suck (like vacuum cleaners?), to have their arrested husbands released.

Women are a commodity in Russia, and life itself is generally a luxury. Shoot him/her first but make sure he/she watches. I cannot imagine the horror of those days when a powerful man had the power over life and death. This is a comedy that we can laugh at, while still fearing a bullet in the back of the head.

Stalin eventually dies. As many doctors will certify. His daughter Svetlana, played by Andrea Riseborough, and son Vasily, played by Rupert Friend, are distraught and both equally terrific. Jeffrey Tambor as Stalin's deputy Malenkov is the new leader, and unsure of whether he should or shouldn't say yes or no or maybe. A halt is called to Stalin's purges and shootings. And it was hilarious watching these important men trying to second guess whether they should agree with it as a new change, or whether it is going against what Stalin wanted. Beria having taken such decisive control pulling Malenkov's strings, and Steve Buscemi getting the joker card to have to plan the funeral. But by god is he going to plan the hell out of it. Jonathan Aris the funeral director wanting everything just right. Ruched curtains and all. But who invited the Bishops?

Jason Isaacs in such a formidable cast was outstanding. I loved his bluff Yorkshire accent, but his General Georgy Zhukov is not happy that his army has been stood down, by Beria. But he's here now to sort out the big girls blouses. This is the man who took on Germany. And won. He's up for it and I felt the only really genuine one. Calling a spade a spade and bugger the consequences. But then of course he has the army at his disposal so that does give you a lot of currency.

When the end comes it's fast and brutal (and you'll agree well deserved). The machinations continuing long after the ashes have been swept up.

A terrific ensemble cast with such scenes as Jeffrey Tambor and a waving child on a balcony and a father returned to his family after the killings are halted. Not very happily for the son who denounced him. His future looking suddenly bleaker. Both very funny in their different ways. And generally a brilliantly funny film.

But I think the real heroes are the Russian people who survived such unimaginable horror and suffering over the years.


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