The Death of Stalin Review

Reviews Films




When Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) drops dead of a cerebral haemorrhage, his boot-licking inner Party members struggle for power in this absurdist farce by Armando Ianucci (Veep, In The Loop). Deputy Georgy Malenkov (Jeffery Tambor) decides only he can take the place of their ‘irreplaceable’ and dearly-departed dictator. But not forever. Amongst those vying for power are the morally fickle statesman Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin); Nikita Krushchev (Steve Buscemi), who’s trying to implement his plan of ‘De-Stalinization’ in the sudden rift in totalitarian power caused by the unexpected death; Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), leader of the secret police, who’s trying to usurp the authority of Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) with the NKVD; and swirling around in the morass of backstabbing and betrayal are Stalin’s grown children, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) and Vasily (Rupert Friend).

The Death of Stalin is based on the similarly titled comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. While loosely following documented fact, Death of Stalin worries less about historical accuracy and more on its attack on the ridiculousness of bureaucracy. It works to emphasise the falseness and artificiality of lives and relationships forged under such oppressive regimes, where one lives in fear of overstepping the constantly shifting lines of law and policy. For a black comedy, however, the balance seems a little off between nonsense humour and the darker subplots, specifically Beria’s penchant for raping young girls. Not that one should hide the horrific facts of history, but the question is whether Ianucci does the topic justice by throwing it in seemingly without recompense, only to further demonise an already wicked historical figure, responsible for the expansion of the gulags. In a film made entirely of stuffing, these elements hit an off-key, juxtaposing intense human suffering and loss of life against a drunkard calling another man a testicle.

The jokes fly thick and fast and there is never a dull moment in the film’s exponentially fast paced plot. Some of the humour is accessible to audiences who have very little knowledge of the Stalin regime, but its also so densely packed with one-liners and thick British accents that some jokes might be lost in the barrage – it throws them at you whether you catch them or not. Each stellar cast member brings their own eclectic acting style to the milieu, and the British accents intensify the fraudulent, Monty-Python-esque representations of historical figures. The over-acting rings intentionally false – the absurdity of the charade is the film’s objective, as well as the satirising of Party policy backflips and paranoia.

It’s a race to the finish, and whether or not you know what they’re racing towards, it’s funny either way.

I rate this film 7/10.


Alison has a BA in Literary and Cultural Studies and Creative Writing, and has just completed her BA Honours in Creative Practice Screenwriting.