‘Don’t worry, nobody’s gonna get killed, I promise you. This is just a musical emergency…’
Armando Iannucci is a legend in comedy circles whilst never really becoming a household name. This is because he does most of his work behind the camera. Having been heavily involved in I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and Veep among others, Iannucci is surely at a point where he can pretty much pick his own projects. The Death of Stalin is his second feature film after 2009’s In The Loop and, predictably, it is hilarious.
When ‘Uncle’ Joe Stalin drops dead, the ensuing scramble for power causes chaos in the Soviet Union. Hoping to exploit this corridor of uncertainty are Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Khruschev (Steve Buscemi) and Molotov (Michael Palin).
The first thing to note is that while The Death of Stalin is obviously set in Mother Russia, the actors all speak in their normal American/British accents. This ensures that we aren’t subjected to borderline offensive Russian caricatures and tired cliches. Instead we have a film that feels very British, much like Iannucci’s other work in fact, but somehow, also totally different.
The sheer quality of the acting helps of course with Buscemi hilariously perplexed throughout and Tambor suitably insecure and lost as Stalin’s hapless successor. Elsewhere, Paddy Considine steals the show in the movie’s gloriously farcical opening and Jason Isaacs is laugh out loud funny as a foul mouthed, Yorkshire tongued Russian field marshall. Just as the film is growing a little stale, Isaacs is thrown in like a Yorkshire Pudding on a tray of caviar to revitalise the whole damn film.
Despite Isaacs late, timely intervention, there is still a nagging feeling that an hour and 45 minutes is a little too long for a comedy film but on the whole The Death of Stalin is smart, funny and surprisingly accessible. Don’t let the sombre setting put you off, Iannucci’s latest is full of laughter and colour.