The Death of Stalin


Razor-sharp political satire, from a genius Discuss this article

© ITP Images

Accepting the old adage about comedy being tragedy plus time, it still feels about half a century too soon to be mining the savage tyranny of Stalinism for gags. But writer-director Armando Iannucci (In the Loop) has managed it – and then some – pulling off the most essential British comedy since Four Lions in the process.

Like Orwell on helium, this reimagining of Stalin’s demise and the subsequent ideological gymnastics of his scheming acolytes is daring, quick-fire and appallingly funny.

Steve Buscemi’s scheming Khrushchev, Jeffrey Tambor’s dim-witted deputy chairman Malenkov and Simon Russell Beale’s secret police chief Beria lead the charge, hoping to seize power or just stay alive in the fallout. Michael Palin (Molotov) and Paul Whitehouse (Mikoyan) round out a politburo stuffed with comedy greats.

What follows is a riotous farce of doublespeak and plotting laced with moments of bitumen-black horror. Iannucci’s control of tone is such that we’re carried from hilarity to revulsion and back again in a few keenly crafted lines of dialogue. It’s much darker terrain than his comic dissections of US and British politics, The Thick of It and Veep – uncomfortably so at times.

And while the cast – special mention to Jason Isaacs, hilarious as a blustering general with a massively conspicuous Yorkshire accent – are uniformly terrific, the real star here is the man behind the camera. Once again he proves to have the unique skill to be able to tickle the funny bone one minute and cut right through it the next. To terms like “Pythonesque” in the cinema dictionary, it may be time to add “Iannuccian”. The man’s a master.

The bottom line
Razor-sharp political satire, from a genius.

By Phil De Semlyen
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

The Death of Stalin

  • Duration: 106
  • Released: Thu, 25 Jan
  • Language: English
  • Director: Armando Iannucci
  • Stars: Steve Buscemi, Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs

Add your review/feedback

Subscribe to weekender newsletter



Explore by

Our favourite features