Review: The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin is the latest film from Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep and I’m Alan Partridge. Based on the graphic novel by Fabien Nury (and real events, obviously), the film “Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death” (Source: IMDb). The film stars Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale and Jeffrey Tambor with Michael Palin, Paddy Considine, Paul Whitehouse and Andrea Riseborough in supporting roles.

This film is an enormously entertaining look at the paranoia and double dealing that took place after Stalin’s demise. The twists and turns may be familiar to those who know the history, but Iannucci deftly makes the events humorous as well as darkly unpredictable and intense. The constant threat of death looms and gives the film very high stakes. However funny the scenarios are, there is a real tension underneath. Any mistake that the characters make has harsh and absolute consequences. 

Iannucci’s skill with cruel, biting one-liners is still in tact. He is one of the few comic writers who can get away with putting this brand of nasty humour on screen without alienating audiences. It might be more difficult to swallow if it wasn’t so funny. Every line has been fine tuned for maximum precision and he relies on wit rather than shock humour to earn laughs. 

The cast is great. Iannucci cleverly uses talent from both sides of the Atlantic to build a sterling range of performances. Steve Buscemi is fantastic as Nikita Khrushchev, the neurotic and seemingly decent head of the Moscow Party, and he brings a real sense of desperation to his role. Jeffrey Tambor is also excellent as the spineless and preening Malenkov. Paddy Considine has a small role early on in the film but he really sells his part and brings plenty of laughs as well. Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs and Rupert Friend are also very funny but aren’t given the same depth of character development as some of the others.

The finest performances come from Michael Palin and Simon Russell Beale. Palin plays Molotov, one of Stalin’s most staunch supporters who has his loyalties tested by certain revelations. His performance is unexpectedly complex and he really sinks his teeth into his role. Simon Russell Beale is the real standout. He has the meatiest role as Beria, the utterly repulsive spymaster. Beale has long been celebrated on stage but hasn’t had a screen role to highlight his talents until now. He is magnetic and chilling whilst also being funny and quick-witted. 

Overall, The Death of Stalin is another brilliant comedy from Armando Iannucci. He balances humour and tragedy expertly and the performances are all top notch. If you are a fan of profane, witty political satire with a topical edge then this is the film for you.

The Death of Stalin is in cinemas across the UK now. Image source:

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Patrick Crellin

Patrick Crellin

Co-editor of Film and TV. Please check out more reviews and opinion pieces on my blog-
Patrick Crellin

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