Armando Ianucci, the man behind Veep, In the Loop and The Thick of It brings us a satirical look at the death of one of the world's most infamous dictators. As the highest ranking members of the Soviet government scramble to deal with the crisis, things quickly devolve into a mad scramble for power. But who will be left on top when the dust settles?
The genius of The Death of Stalin is that Ianucci has made a comedy about one of the darkest periods in our history, without shying away from the dark parts. Which is no mean feat given the subject matter! There's murder, political in-fighting, the rounding up of civilians for interrogation (and possibly worse), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) - the Head of the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) - was a serial rapist who used his position to abduct women off the street. Everyone, and I mean everyone was afraid to speak because one wrong word could result in death or a one way ticket to a gulag. And yet watching these bumbling idiots try to run the country by committee whilst dealing with the death of their leader and simultaneously undermining each other at every turn is one of the funniest things I've ever seen!
Ianucci and co. took the same approach with The Death of Stalin as Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise did with Valkyrie, in that all of the actors retain their normal accents. No dodgy impressions of a Russian accent here. You've got British, American and Ukrainian actors making up the main cast and they all do impeccable jobs in their respective roles. Jason Isaacs' performance as Georgy Zhukov, head of the Soviet Army is by far one of the funniest thanks to his thick Yorkshire accent.
The problem with this type of comedy is that there's a fine line between funny and inappropriate/offensive. Armando Ianucci it seems, has managed to walk that tightrope without falling off. Despite a truncated timeline, The Death of Stalin is a fairly accurate depiction of events. Parts of history are depicted in hilarious fashion and the men at the top are the source of most of the comedy. But at no point during the course of the movie are the victims mocked in any way. And I think it's there that Ianucci found that fine line, he made fun of the situation and those responsible, but never the people of the Soviet Union and what they suffered. Not bad for what could be the funniest movie of the year!
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