The Death of Stalin Review

Joseph Stalin usually got what he wanted. The restaging of an entire orchestral concert, even if it meant forcing a conductor out of his bed in pyjamas and herding in commoners from the street as audience members, wouldn’t require second thought, if at his request.

This scene is not only true, but was diluted down in ridiculousness for the film to make it seem more believable. The Death of Stalin evokes more than just a bucket of laughs though, and in the words of director Armando Iannucci, is very much “a comedy and a tragedy running simultaneously”.

The film is based on French author Fabien Nury’s graphic novel. Set in 1953 Soviet Russia, it follows the 10 days from Stalin’s death to his funeral. What unfolds in between is a theatrical and utterly unbelievable series of attempts from Stalin’s power-hungry inner circle to ultimately take his place.

The decision to keep British accents in the film was one, not only greatly appreciated by the Russian press, but also deliberately intended to illustrate the diversity of the Soviet Union, relative to understood British social norms.

Iannucci beautifully wrote a script packed with dark humour and elaborately blocked scenes, some going on for several minutes at a time. The vibrant characters were brilliantly played by the cast, who captured that frightening human need for power as well as sheer incompetence that made this piece not only a hit for history buffs but scarily relevant to political topics unfolding at present.