THE DEATH OF STALIN | Armando Iannucci’s latest political satire topples a Soviet dictator…
Picture Joseph Stalin and what do you see? The brutal Soviet dictator who purged millions of his perceived enemies? A disarmingly hot young man? (It’s a thing, google it.) What you don’t see is a diminutive east London geezer.
“All the memoirs say that when he died, he was this little old man,” Armando Iannucci tells Teasers.
The Death Of Stalin’s writer/director took the oddly inspired route of casting Londoner Adrian McLoughlin as Russia’s infamous autocrat, original accent and all. “Stalin bore no relation to the massive statues and portraits hanging all around him. I wanted a guy who could still freak you out, but was smaller than you were expecting.”
It’s no spoiler to say McLoughlin’s Stalin carks it early doors. Instead the film focuses on the power struggle that erupts between his inner circle in the wake of his death. Among the eclectic ranks: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Paul Whitehouse and Michael Palin (the Python’s first on-camera film role in
20 years). Like McLoughlin, they all retain their regional twangs. “The only thing they had in common was they were running the Soviet Union. It should feel like there’s a different dynamic behind each one of them.”
While the film’s satirical register will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Iannucci’s political comedies (The Thick Of It, In The Loop and Veep), The Death Of Stalin has been adapted from a French graphic novel. Iannucci immediately saw a parallel with his oeuvre, and an opportunity to push himself as a filmmaker. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” Iannucci nods. “It’s the first time we’ve looked at actual historical characters. The first time we’ve done a period piece. I wanted it to feel more cinematic.”
He also wanted it to feel less straightforwardly comedic, “something where you’re simultaneously laughing but also feeling a little bit nervous,” with the paranoid mania of Stalin’s Russia pushing the bounds of plausibility onscreen. “People told us families were so used to people being taken away in the middle of the night that they went to bed with three or four layers of clothes on,” Iannucci says. “Vasily, Stalin’s son, really did lose the entire national army hockey team in a plane crash and tried to cover it up. These are all true stories.”
No stranger to the unbelievable truth, having worked on Veep for four years, Iannucci was ready to leave Washington politics behind, but found his work more relevant than ever with the rise of Trump. “People talk about how current it feels in terms of the world of dictators and autocrats, and how they want to control the media, their image and the narrative,” Iannucci considers. “So I don’t suppose
you can get away from it.”
ETA | 20 OCTOBER / THE DEATH OF STALIN OPENS NEXT MONTH.
rED ALErT Writer/director Armando Iannucci (below) has brought together an all-star cast, including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Paul Whitehouse, for his satirical take on Soviet politics.