All About History

The death of stalin

Less than it is with Bolsheviks


That none of these transatlan­tic actors adopt a Russian actor is never an issue — and perhaps a blessing. Then again, the fact that Issacs actually puts on a Sean Bean-style Yorkshire brogue to play the head of the Red Army is, for better or worse, part of the reason he steals every scene.

While the plot is broadly lifted from the French graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, Iannucci and co-writers David Schneider and Ian Martin ramp up the sycophancy, cronyism and doublespea­k that made The Thick of It and Veep required watching.

Having said that, The Death of Stalin is as unsettling as it is entertaini­ng. The horrors of Stalin’s regime, as brutal as it was bureaucrat­ic, form the backdrop to all the bickering and scheming. As well as name-checking real events and offering glimpses inside a gulag, guffawing laughter can quickly turn to a shocking gasp as slapstick buffoonery gives way to senseless violence. The last ten minutes of the film are particular­ly hard to watch as the most successful power play reaches its harrowing endgame.

For the most part, Iannucci successful­ly walks this tricky tightrope so that it never feels like one of the darkest periods of modern history is being treated glibly. If anything, the film speaks to a deeper truth about totalitari­anism, in which any situation where so few people have so much power is as terrifying as it is absurd. Disappoint­ingly, however, the Blu-ray and DVD special features are limited to interviews with the cast and crew and deleted scenes instead of anything a little meatier.

This comedy of terrors doesn’t dismiss of the horrors of Stalin’s reign but it does serve as a reminder to laugh in the face of trumped-up authoritar­ians. From Elizabeth I’s precarious upbringing to the religious division that marred her nation and her refusal to marry, Helen Castor argues the Virgin Queen’s life was shaped by enduring personal and political insecurity. This illuminati­ng biography is the perfect primer to the queen’s life as it offers a short, fresh account in a pocket-sized edition.

15 Armando Iannucci Cast Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffery Tambor, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseboroug­h Released Out now

Elizabeth I presided over the birth of the British Empire with English explorers, merchants and colonists setting off for the New World. But she also sent privateers to disrupt Spain’s efforts, attacking ports and robbing ships. Discover the mariners that terrorised the seas to amass great wealth for themselves and the Crown in this utterly thrilling read.

Perhaps the most famous Elizabetha­n is William Shakespear­e and this unique biography focuses on a pivotal 12 months in which the Bard wrote some of his greatest works. It also looks at the wider events — from the Irish Rebellion to rumours of Elizabeth’s death — that made 1599 such an inspiring year in history. If you think you know everything about Elizabeth’s England, try this compelling account of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester. Close friends since childhood, the relationsh­ip between Knollys and the queen disintegra­ted after she married Robert Dudley — the only suitor Elizabeth really cared for. Tallis offers an intimate portrayal of heartbreak and betrayal.

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