“The Death of Stalin (2017)” Review

Russia. 1953. Plenty of laughs to be had there…

Why did I watch it?

It’s Iannucci, and I’m expecting a bloodier, more Russian The Thick of It. Plus: What. A. Cast.

Did it meet expectations?

With that cast and all those five star reviews building up over the last six weeks since its screening at the Toronto Film Festival? It’s a high bar; and it absolutely did. It’s razor sharp and very very funny – despite the horrific purges and massacres that occur – and are acknowledged – during the film. It reminded me of Life of Brian (and not just because Michael Palin stars in both) for appropriate humour in an deeply inappropriate setting. Ridicule is deployed so deftly and so purposefully, and every scene is a comic masterpiece developing the weaknesses and foibles of the brutal men whose daily life was this monstrous madness.

The cast is superb, with every generation of British comic actor represented (Monty Python‘s Palin, The Fast Show‘s Whitehouse, The Thick of It‘s Edwards etc.) and Americans too (Steve Buscemi) plus great British actors of theatre and film (Russell Beale, Riseborough, Isaacs, Considine) all of whom can deadpan a scene one moment, and move you the next. Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) provides some ethical certainty amid the general panic and moral manoeuvrability.

The score is outstanding – there are passages that sound more like Shostakovich than Shostakovich – and the design and lighting are beautiful.

This is a comedy that will be admired decades from now, but in the era of Putin and Trump, a satire that hits its marked so assuredly is an especially rare and welcome thing.

You should watch it if…

  • You are willing to find humour in the bleakest chapters of history

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You’re an over-sensitive demagogue with despotic tendencies.

Next up: Contagion (2011). Probably.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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