Death of Stalin: Comedy in the incompetent

By Azeem Rajulawalla (BA History)

Armando Iannucci returns to the silver screen in this comedy-thriller-tragedy (it’s quite hard to place this film in one particular genre) to remind us all that he has mastered the art of satire. The Death of Stalin follows Stalin’s inner circle in the immediate aftermath of his death as they attempt to plot and panic their way to power, hindered by their own incompetence, their feigned loyalties to Stalin, and the brutal systems they themselves have established.

The film boasts a spectacular cast, all of whom get their moments to shine in this star-studded feature. Steve Buscemi plays the nervous Khrushchev whose attempts to prevent catastrophe end up making things worse. Jeffrey Tambor is perfect as Malenkov, completely out-of-his-depth and more concerned with his appearance as leader than actual leadership. Michael Palin is the laughably pathetic Molotov, and Jason Isaacs channels Sean Bean as the rough and plain-spoken General Zhukov, gaining some of the biggest laughs in the process. The highest praise must be awarded to Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of the slimy Beria, a genuinely frightening presence whose black heart brings much of the morbid humour to the film. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

The Death of Stalin, in all its hilarity, has an edge that keeps the comedy grounded. Iannucci has stated that he wanted to create a tension behind each laugh, and does so by establishing the life-and-death stakes for his characters. The comedy comes to a sudden halt in the final minutes of the film, perhaps in respect to the grim real-life events it is based on. Iannucci’s newest project may be his most ambitious and so far, it’s definitely the funniest film of the year.

The Death of Stalin is in cinemas from 20th October 2017. 15 certificate, running time 105 minutes.

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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