On The Big Screen Reviews

The Death of Stalin – Review

Moscow, 1953 wasn’t exactly anyone’s vision of Utopia. Strict Soviet, totalitarian regime; secret ‘trigger happy’ police and the onset of constant paranoia (alongside toilet flushing) consumes the nation as they become convinced their own homes are spying on them. People were rounded up and shot on the spot accused of leaking information at an incredibly alarming rate, all for one dictator on one hell of a power trip and a fondness of classical music it would seem.

On a slightly lighter note, director Armando Ianucci takes the dystopian traits of Russia during this time and sprinkles (and sometimes utterly dousing) them with sheer satirical enjoyment in latest dark comedy, The Death of Stalin. Immediately embodying identical characteristics of the BBC hit TV series, The Thick of It; Ianucci presents the most sinister aspects of the period and ingeniously translates them into hilarious material. After the main man himself is found dead in his office, his cabinet come together to form a plan for their beloved state. Although, it seems no one has anyone’s best interests at heart apart from fighting their own way to top and blaming everyone else along the way (hmm, have we seen this recently?)

Headed up by the quite frankly terrifying Lavrentiy Betia (Simon Russell Beale), Stalin’s chief of security, it’s pure gold watching these men struggle to be the voice that’s heard. The lucky (corset wearing) Georgy Malenkov (Jeremy Tambor) gets to take over as ruler of the Union, by no means does that mean he makes the decisions. This team of merry men consisting of; Buscemi, Palin, Whitehouse and Isaacs certainly couldn’t form a plan to get the ring to Mordor although they do eventually decide on one thing that could help save their lives and many others. Squabbling debates commence and the harsh truth is revealed making it hard to like even one of these men if the jokes and light heartedness was stripped away, what lies beneath is something terrifying sinister that one would want to avoid at all costs.

Having Stalin perceived as a London gangster is completely genius – Stalin will now always be a hard edged Londoner that has beef with everyone who looks at him the wrong way. The entire cast from the familiar faces to the extras in the background absolutely nail it. As time goes by, you may be gagging to see what Jason Isaacs has up his sleeve, but fear not it’s worth the wait. Entering with one of the best coat flinging action of all time, Isaacs is flawless as army head Zhukov arguable bagging the best lines with Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin coming in a close second. Palin, Whitehouse, Buscemi; what else is there to say apart from how brilliant these men are on screen and what they do with the dialogue given to them is simply a masterpiece.

Whether historically accurate or not, this is knicker-wetting funny from Paddy Considine’s determined clock watching to the brutal deaths some endure throughout. This would certainly benefit from a second viewing, purely because your own laughter is so loud you will miss the odd joke here and there, not to mention how intricately put together each frame is. There wasn’t a second that went by where even the extras in the background weren’t up to something hilarious, The Death of Stalin takes a bleak, melancholy segment from the world’s past that truly demonstrates what happens when people have too much power and truly turns it on its head; almost as though we can hear someone say, “This was awful, we need to learn from this”. Yet, examining our current political state doesn’t exactly fill one with wonderment.

Be prepared to be stared at due to the cackle of laughing you will be producing whilst absorbing this tale. If you are having a bad week, it’s certainly not as bad as Stalin’s and if there’s one thing you should take away from this, let it be the advice of the drunkard Vasily Stalin at his father’s funeral – “smile, nod, shake hands and try to not call them cunts!”


The Death of Stalin is out on Friday 20th October, 2017

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