The Death of Stalin review – political satire at its best

By Ryan Keating-Lambert


The Death of Stalin is a remarkable send-up of the terrifying shit-storm that was and always has been Russian politics. Rarely a dull moment to be had here.

Directed by Glaswegian Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop) and based on the comic book by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, The Death of Stalin follows the Russian dictator’s final days and the Soviet regime as it quickly descends into chaos. Starring Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough and many more.

The Oscar-nominated director has composed a near-perfect and superb political satire that’s driven by quick-fire wit and outstanding performances from all involved. I actually found it impossible to choose a favourite. Buscemi shines as the pyjama clad Nikita Khrushchev and surprisingly bares a remarkable resemblance to the real-life tyrant. Jason Isaacs plays a ruthless General Georgy Zhukov and reminded me of someone worthy of the Dr Strangelove ‘War Room’. Jeffrey Tambor plays Stalin successor Georgy Malenkov who lights up every scene with his awkward hair and pompous demeanor, and of course Andrea Riseborough as the anxious Svetlana Stalina… and it’s always a pleasure to see Michael Palin.

Seriously, this is a wonderful cast who just play so damn well together. The dialogue is full of flavour, hilarious and wholly refreshing. Think Veep with the occasional Monty Pythonesque outburst – a quaint little newspaper caricature that leaps right off the page. It’s farcical. It’s witty. And it’s dark as hell. The way that Iannucci has made light of the seemingly endless number of execution lists pumped out of the office on a daily basis is an absurd kind of genius, made better only by Christopher Willis’ whimsical score.

Perhaps the most memorable takeaway from this film though is how well it flows. From the get-go we’re thrown into the paranoid mess when we witness pianist Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) playing the 3rd movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 which is also being broadcast on Russian State Radio. The auditorium is soon thrown into chaos when Stalin requests a recording of the performance, which finished moments earlier.

History and political buffs will also get a lot out of Stalin. It’s inventive as hell but stays true to certain facts and figures. The whole film is gorgeously framed in chapter-like references to the real-life articles that followed the dictator’s death.

Iannucci’s trademark wit works so well for this dire moment in history. I’d be interested to see him take on more of these political projects. Fans of this should also check out the Emmy award-winning series Veep, and of course the Oscar-nominated In the Loop.

Photo: Just Watch




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