- 31 Oct 17
Pitch black humour brings the laughs in Soviet-era satire.
In a week where Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw relief workers from Puerto Rico after declaring that he met with the 'Puerto Rican President' (that would be him), a political satire about politicians' self-interest and incompetence hardly seemed necessary. Armando Iannucci's black comedy isn't about Trump, however; like all his work (In The Loop, Veep), it uses razor-sharp wit to illustrate the painful and often pathetic ego wars at the heart of political conflicts.
Set in the Soviet Union in 1953, The Death Of Stalin is loosely based on real events, but Iannucci's wicked comic stylings elevate this Kremlin tale into an absurdist gem. When Josef Stalin suffers a stroke in his office, fear of disrespecting the dictator ironically leads to a series of indignities. Dignitaries and doctors avoid pronouncing his death, fearing that it be read as wishful thinking or an act of treason, leading to a series of increasingly farcical conversations and body-shuffling. But amidst the performance of grief, a mad scramble for power also begins.
The superb cast includes Michael Palin as the hangdog Molotov; Steve Buscemi as the jester-like but calculating Khrushchev; Jeffrey Tambor as the hilariously insecure yet pompous Malenkov; and a wonderfully slimy Simon Russell Beale as unctuous police chief Beria. All of the performances are simultaneously hilarious and terrifying, as these immature men snipe and bicker - but then you remember they literally have the lives and futures of civilians in their power-grabbing hands.