The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin is a 2017 political satire comedy film directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci. It stars Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffrey Tambor. Based on the French graphic novel La mort de Staline, the film depicts the Soviet power struggles following the death of Soviet revolutionary and politician Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) in 1953.

The movie depicts the events that happen after Stalin’s death; which occurs after he is paralysed by a cerebral haemorrhage. At the time he was listening to the recording to a concerto music that Stalin had wanted to get a copy off and reading a note from pianist Maria Yudina hides a note in the recording for Joseph Stalin, saying he has ruined the country. The members of the Central Committee are alerted. The first to arrive are NKVD head Lavrentiy Beria, who discovers Maria’s note, and Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov. As Malenkov panics, Beria guides him to take leadership, hoping to use him as a puppet.

Moscow Party Head Nikita Khrushchev arrives with the rest of the Committee, except for Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, whom Stalin added to one of his lists of enemies the night previously. Beria closes off Moscow, has the NKVD take over city security duties from the Red Army, and replaces Stalin’s enemy lists with his own, reprieving Molotov. Khrushchev and Beria struggle for symbolic victories such as control over Stalin’s unstable son Vasily and daughter Svetlana. Stalin dies, despite initially recovering briefly Khrushchev goes to Molotov’s home and attempts to enlist his support, but Molotov, a true believer in Stalinism, opposes any factionalism within the Party. Beria buys his loyalty by releasing his wife Polina Molotova from confinement. There is then a struggle for power as the funeral preparations begin.

On the day of Stalin’s funeral, Khrushchev lies to the Committee and Zhukov that he has Malenkov’s support. The Red Army overwhelms the NKVD and takes up positions outside the conference room. Zhukov and his men arrest Beria, and Khrushchev coerces Malenkov into signing the papers for Beria’s trial. Khrushchev and his allies find Beria guilty of treason and of sexual assault in a kangaroo court and execute him. As Beria’s body is burnt, Khrushchev gives Svetlana a ticket to Vienna and assures her that her brother will be cared for. Several years later, Khrushchev, now Supreme Leader of the Soviet Union after removing his co-conspirators, attends a concert given by Maria, while future leader Leonid Brezhnev watches him.

A very light-heartened look at the events of communist Russia with some absurd humour, what I was also stricken by was the American and British accents for the Russian characters. That detracted from what was a really good movie but it also lags in places and I was droning off. The best performances are by Buscemi, Friend, Tambor & Issacs. 7.5 outta 10 for me!

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