The Death of Stalin – Exploring the Past

TL;DR – A farcical look at the reality of when an inept leader dies and leaves a vacuum to be filled.     

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

The Death of Stalin. Image Credit: Madman.

The Death of Stalin Review

Way back in the before times, I had planned to see The Death of Stalin in cinemas, with a planned double session. However, after being emotionally obliterated by Gurrumul, that got put on hold and very came to fruition. I have kept meaning to watch it since then, but now given I have some time thanks to the current state of the world, I thought it would be the perfect time to dive in.  

In 1953, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) was ruling the country with an iron fist, killing all those who oppose or even annoy him. There is a raucous almost frat house feel around dinner as Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). While this jocularity goes on, Stalin requests the recording of a concerto performance he just heard on Radio Moscow, one small problem. No one recorded it. Chaos erupts as Yuri Andreyev (Paddy Considine) tries to record the performance, while buses round people up across the city. It would be the worst time for something to happen to Stalin, but as the title of the film suggests that is what happens because pianist Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) slipped a note of sedition into the recording. As Stalin read it, he suffers a cerebral haemorrhage and becomes paralysed, and no one comes to his aid till morning.

The Death of Stalin. Image Credit: Madman.
One of the interesting parts of the film is how it is framed. Image Credit: Madman.

There is no real plan as what to do, because of the way Stalin worked through fear, not even the guards who heard the fall did anything out of fear. All of this means that there were no real succession plans put in place, or even worse as the case turns out, competing succession plans. Beria and Khrushchev try to outdo each other rallying support in almost farcical effects as people die around them. Vanity is the emotion of the day, as different sides try to covet favours, from people they had tried to kill days earlier. It is pomp and circumstance at the barrel of a gun, none of it helped by the deputy Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor).

While the farce is one aspect of the film, a joke rooted in the reality of the situation, the other part is the way it is all framed through the production. Every time someone appears on the screen, we get a friendly name card telling you who they are and what they do. Then there is the piano at the core of the musical score that ebbs from melancholy to chaos. Finally, there is what might be the oddest part of the film, which no one at all is trying to do a Russian accent. Indeed, no one is trying to do an accent at all, which means we have American, British, Welsh, and more floating around in the film. It creates an odd dissonance in the film that would usually make it feel out of place. But because everyone is committing to it, it instead makes a bizarre sense, like the film has a style all unto itself.  

The Death of Stalin. Image Credit: Madman.
It goes from farce to serious real quick. Image Credit: Madman.

While this film is mostly a farce, at every moment people are dying, for being on the wrong side, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These comedic elements would have undercut the film if not for the third act turn in tone. Now even though this is based on real events, I should say that there will be [SPOILERS] for the end here. There is a moment, just after General Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) arrives when things start coming to ahead. It is in the moments after the funeral finished that the tone takes a sharp dive to the real. It is here where all the theoretical stakes come to the fore, and we move from a farce to being real. There are consequences for many of the characters that happen suddenly and brutally. As the shroud of comedy is removed, it shows the harsh realities underneath, and it is uncomfortable to watch.    

In the end, do we recommend The Death of Stalin? Yes, yes we would. The acting is superb, and while it is a ridiculous look at a real-world event, it does hit all the main events that occurred. It is a look at what happens when an inept leader is suddenly taken ill, and those underneath have to work in a vacuum on incompetence.    

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you watched The Death of Stalin?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias, and you can follow us
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Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Death of Stalin
Directed by
– Armando Iannucci
Screenplay by – Armando Iannucci, David Schneider & Ian Martin
Based onLa Mort de Staline by Fabien Nury & Thierry Robin
Music by – Chris Willis
Cinematography by – Zac Nicholson
Edited by – Peter Lambert
Production/Distribution Companies – Gaumont, Quad Productions, Main Journey, France 3 Cinema, La Cie Cinématographique, Panache Productions, AFPI, Canal+, Ciné+, France Télévisions, Title Media & Madman.
Starring – Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor, Adrian McLoughlin, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Dermot Crowley, James Barriscale, Leeroy Murray, Daniel Fearn, Luke D’Silva, Gerald Lepkowski, Dave Wong, Richard Brake, Diana Quick, Justin Edwards, Tom Brooke, Nicholas Woodeson, Karl Johnson, Cara Horgan, Jonathan Aris, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Sylvestra Le Touzel & Paul Ready                   
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R

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