The Death of Stalin

1hr 46mins | Rated R16 | Violence, Sexual References and offensive language

Inspired by history itself, The Death of Stalin follows the political, personal and farcical machinations that followed the Soviet leader's demise in 1953. Discovered lying "in a pool of indignity", the first priority (and problem) for the members of the central committee is determining whether he has actually joined the choir invisible.
"All the best doctors are either in the gulag or dead," they are informed, thanks to Stalin's rather over-zealous security forces. Once it is finally determined that he has ceased to be, then the battle for power commences in earnest.
Among the contenders are Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Moscow Party Head Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), although the scheming security forces head Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) also has his eyes on the prize. But as they all gather to remember their fallen leader and plot their country's future, a few other concerns also enter the mix. What to do about Stalin's rather unstable children Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) and Vasily (Rupert Friend)? And what role might Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) have to play?
From the hilarious concert that has to be recreated a second time so Radio Moscow can record it for Stalin, to the final farcical skirmish for "the throne", The Death of Stalin offers wall-to-wall laughs of the darkest kind.
Iannucci does a magnificent job of mining the satire out of the scary, expertly finding the right balance between the grim reality of the situation and the gross incompetence and glorious pomposity which these characters portray.
As well as the trademark whip-smart dialogue from the writer-director and his team, Stalin also benefits majorly from one of the most eclectic and exciting ensemble casts in living memory. Where else can you see British comedians like Paul Whitehouse, line-up alongside the likes of Buscemi, Tambor and former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko?
Another masterstroke is the decision to eschew any attempt at Russian accents. It makes Khrushchev seem like a close relative of Buscemi's Boardwalk Empire anti-hero Nucky Thompson and adds an extra layer of laughter when Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) sounds like a East End wide-boy and Zhukov a northern English bully.
Simply superb satire and one of 2018's must-see movies.

The Christchurch Press

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