The Death of Stalin

From the maker of In The Loop comes another vicious political satire about the death of the titular Russian dictator and the in-fighting and positioning that went on around it.

Of course, I’ve no idea if any of it is historically accurate, but that’s hardly the point of Armando Iannucci’s absurdist sketch. Surely this is meant as a skit on all politics, all jockeying and back-stabbing and yes, maybe with a particular relevance to Trump’s America, but only because that is now – it could equally be the end of the Thatcher era, or Blair, or Chairman Mao.

A fine comic cast – actually, a ridiculous blend of talents and looks all playing Russians – includes Steve Buscemi as Nicky Kruschkev, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin (as Molotov), Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs and Simon Russell Beale, who steals the whole show as Beria, a deadly secret service chief whose ever line is laced with arsenic.

‘I’m exhausted,” says one, “I can’t remember who’s dead or alive.” Such is the paranoia, that when Kruschkev gets home from dinner with Stalin and his fellow henchmen, he fears he’s next. His wife urges him to write everything down. It’s a culture of: make your own list before you’re next on someone else’s.

There are political arguments in the laughter, discussions of liberalisation, radicalism and factionalism and quotes from the Communist manifesto, mainly regarding the protocol around the death of the supreme leader.

It’s the absurdism that will co-erce you into giggles – “how can you run and plot at the same time?” –  although the clever bit is also the way the fear seeps in, the dread cold and dark misery, where every ringing phone could be a death sentence.

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