Released: 29th March 2018
Seen: 1st May 2018
When it comes to handling the death of the leader of a nation, there are many ways that one could handle such a topic in a film. If the death is of a beloved figure, it should be given reverence and be about celebrating their life. If it’s of a decent but lesser known figure, it should be about why they were secretly important and why we should care about their passing (As an audience). However, if it’s about one of histories greatest monsters such as Joseph Stalin then it’s completely acceptable to take the almighty piss out of the man and have a few good belly laughs over the chaos that ensued. The Death of Stalin absolutely revels in that chaos and makes it very clear that we’re not laughing with anyone, we’re laughing at these men and they absolutely deserve it.
Based on the French graphic novel of the same name, The Death Of Stalin follows the events immediately following the passing of Joseph Stalin. Namely, it follows the Central Committee trying to figure out who is going to be the replacement for Stalin while they’re also trying to deal with a funeral and the aftermath of his undignified death. They have to not only deal with a grieving (And insane) family but try and handle the reality of the awful things that Stalin did and if they should continue doing them or should they try and reform the country… you know, light topics all around
The movie is a gloriously dark comedy that has no problems letting the audience know from the jump that it’s not to be taken seriously. When you have a movie about a Russian dictator with a cast made up entirely of English and American actors who aren’t even attempting to put on a Russian accent, that’s a hint that you can have some fun with this one. Hearing Stalin asking a delivery man “You fucking walk here?” in Adrian McLoughlin’s accent is genuinely hilarious and wouldn’t have worked if they were trying Russian accents. It also helps the film tremendously that it’s being helmed by Armando Iannucci, the man who brought us Veep and The Thick Of It. He’s proven that he’s a genius when it comes to his ability to satirize politics and this is the most extreme satirization that he’s ever done. He’s handled political figures many times, handling a dictator is something completely different.
When it comes to the pacing of the film, Death Of Stalin rushes by at just over 100 minutes and the events really only encompass two days. The day Stalin died and the day of the Funeral are the only days we spend with these people and the film makes sure we instantly understand who they are just from their entrances, how hungry they are for a position of power or how vile and conniving they can be. Within minutes we know who we’re dealing with so once things start getting insane and they have to plan a funeral, the audience can sit back and enjoy their interactions.
To somehow find a way to take one of histories greatest monsters and find something humorous about him isn’t easy, it’s something that very few manage to pull off. Charlie Chaplin and Mel Brooks managed to show how one could take a monster like Hitler and find something about him to laugh about and, in my view, that’s what Armando Iannucci has done with Stalin. He made sure that everyone saw the monster that was Joseph Stalin and then allowed us to laugh at him, relegating Stalin to being little more than a vile old man who died alone covered in his own piss.