A regular series where we discuss some of our favourite ever comedy films.
The Death Of Stalin
I’ve always quite liked Armando Iannucci, but I couldn’t really get on with The Thick of It, and so didn’t even bother with In The Loop, nor Veep, nor The Death of Stalin. However, a few weeks ago I saw a comic artist tweet that this latter movie was on Amazon Prime, and so I thought, what the hell, might as well give it a go. (It was that or carry on with Netflix’s The Punisher.)
I actually watched Death of Stalin across two evenings, initially whilst ironing some shirts. It starts well, drawing me in with a gathering of Stalin and his cronies, interlaced with a classical concert in Moscow. Stalin demands a recording of the concert, but none was made, so, fearing the Gulag, The state broadcaster hurriedly arranges for the performance to be immediately repeated. However, the pianist sneaks a poison pen-letter in with the recording. Stalin reads it, and suffers a massive stroke.
For some reason, this really drew me in. The cast is amazing, which helps. It’s great to see Michael Palin back where he belongs, at the forefront of comedy cinema, as Molotov, an old campaigner. Mr Pink himself, Steve Buscemi makes for an impressive, and highly sympathetic Khrushchev. Further Hollywood star power is added by Jeffrey Tambor, as the ineffective deputy Malenkov. However, the stand out performance in whole film is undoubtedly contributed by British stage actor Simon Russell Beale, who portrays the scheming villain Beria with a deftness and depth that almost defies belief.
Further down the cast list, Jason Isaacs has a fantastic supporting role as Marshal Zhukov, Andrea Riseborough makes an impression as Stalin’s stoical daughter, Svetlana, and Rupert Friend absolutely steals all the biggest laughs, as Stalin’s alcoholic son, Vasily.
In truth, though, the Death of Stalin isn’t actually all that funny. What it is though, is absolutely gripping. The power struggle that follows Stalin’s death makes for wonderful drama. I was absolutely hooked. A lack of familiarity with Soviet history helped keep the ending somewhat in doubt, but it also draws you into a fascinating but perhaps not particularly well known true story (at least, not so well known to me).
Having enjoyed this movie so much, I tried In The Loop next. Nope, still don’t like it.
Regardless of that, I have no hesitation in declaring The Death of Stalin as one of the very best films of the 21st Century. It’s a masterpiece.
Chris is co-presenter of the podcast A Very British Horror.