The Death of Stalin

From the mind of Armando Iannucci comes another clever political satire. I first encountered his clever approach to film making at Sundance, where his “In the Loop” gathered understandable praise. For his latest effort, he goes back to the early 1950s, when the USSR was in the iron grip of Josef Stalin. As he takes ill, the various power brokers grovel and shuffle and scheme for power.

In the hands of a lesser cast, the film would have stumbled mightily. But with the likes of Steve Buscemi, Rupert (“Homeland”) Friend, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, and Jeffrey Tambor, the result is delightfully black film. Rapid dialogue, pithy quips and an excellent looking production are the film’s hallmarks. When it becomes evident that Malenkov (Tambor) will take the reigns, his self-absorption is exploited by the others. Stalin’s kids (Friend and Andrea Riseborough) must be properly sidelined, which makes for a clever secondary plot. The ongoing machinations among purported allies makes for a revolving set of alliances.

Michael Palin, always adding charm and a twinkle to anything in which he appears, is suitably subtle as Molotov.

The exteriors were shot around Kiev, providing a large measure of visual authenticity. Many of the interiors were shot in Britain, which doubled well for what the upper crust of the USSR was able to enjoy in the 1950s. None of the actors attempted to mimic Russian accents, which is just as well. They were undoubtedly far more comfortable in their natural dialects.

I am prompted to check my history books for accuracy, but on balance this moment in time is captured in amusingly fine form by Iannucci and his team.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.