The Death Of Stalin re­view & Film Club

The Death Of Stalin (15)

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - By Demetrios Matheou

IT’S not easy to make com­edy out of real re­pres­sion, real ter­ror. There are the egg shells of bad taste to con­tend with, and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, that irk­some in­hibitor of in­spi­ra­tion. That said, there are some who just have the knack for mak­ing you laugh when you know what you’re watch­ing is no laugh­ing mat­ter.

With his TV shows The Thick Of It and Veep, and the film In The Loop, Ar­mando Ian­nucci has proven to be no slouch when it comes to po­lit­i­cal satire. Of course, it’s one thing mak­ing fun of the hubris and stu­pid­ity of fic­tional politi­cians, an­other when your sub­ject is a real-life dic­ta­tor who presided over the death of mil­lions of his own peo­ple. Yet the per­pe­tra­tor of the Great Ter­ror ap­par­ently holds no fear for the Glaswe­gian writer-pro­ducer-di­rec­tor. This is a boldly and up­roar­i­ously funny film.

Ian­nucci’s fo­cus is not Josef Stalin him­self, but the cult of the man, the sys­tem of re­pres­sion that he cre­ated, the polit­buro mem­bers who man­aged to sur­vive him (no mean feat, when trusty side­kicks were fre­quently ex­e­cuted) and the power strug­gle that fol­lowed their leader’s death.

Moscow, 1953. A clas­si­cal con­cert is be­ing per­formed live for the ra­dio, when the pro­ducer (Paddy Con­si­dine) gets a phone call that sends him into blind panic. Stalin wants a record­ing de­liv­ered to him as soon as the per­for­mance is over. The trou­ble is, it’s not be­ing recorded.

And so, with the pro­ducer’s plat­i­tude that “no­body’s go­ing to get killed”, mu­si­cians and au­di­ence re­play the con­cert for their il­lus­tri­ous leader. The sce­nario would seem out­landish, con­trived, were it not for the fact that many more mun­dane fail­ures to com­ply were sum­mar­ily pun­ished – one of the key in­stru­ments of ter­ror be­ing its ar­bi­trari­ness.

It’s ironic, then, that when Stalin is found near-death the next morn­ing, there’s no-one qual­i­fied left to help. “All the best doc­tors are in the gu­lag, or dead,” de­clares one of his stooges, who have gath­ered around the body like vul­tures. When the dic­ta­tor is even­tu­ally de­clared dead, the bat­tle to re­place him be­gins.

The key play­ers are Stalin’s preen­ing and dim-wit­ted num­ber two Malenkov (Jef­frey Tam­bor), shrewd po­lit­i­cal an­i­mal Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), pow­er­ful spy­mas­ter Be­ria (Si­mon Rus­sell Beale) and the re­cently out-of­favour Molo­tov (Michael Palin), handed a last-minute re­prieve from ex­e­cu­tion and back in the fray with a fer­vour.

While fall­ing over them­selves to be the pro­tec­tor of Stalin’s long-suf­fer­ing daugh­ter Svet­lana (An­drea Riseborough), these men are aware that it’s time to rein back on her fa­ther’s ter­ror. Even Be­ria. Early scenes have shown him walk­ing his un­der­ground cells dis­pens­ing death with in­struc­tions such as “Shoot her be­fore him, but make sure he sees it”, and “Kill him. Dump him in the pul­pit”. But, prag­mat­i­cally, he knows that he must steal the re­former, Khrushchev’s thun­der, if he is to sur­vive.

“How can you run and plot at the same time?” Khrushchev is asked. The an­swer is that he, too, is run­ning for his life. And as these ruth­less but des­per­ate men scheme and ma­noeu­vre, the re­sult is racy, con­sis­tently hi­lar­i­ous black com­edy, with the chill un­der­cur­rent of evil.

A su­perla­tive cast han­dle streams of comic ban­ter with gym­nas­tic aplomb. Edg­ing the hon­ours, with very dif­fer­ent per­for­mances are Beale, who’s ac­tu­ally played Stalin on stage and is phe­nom­e­nally sin­is­ter as Be­ria, Ru­pert Friend as Stalin’s mad son Vasily, who wouldn’t be out of place in Black­ad­der, and Ja­son Isaacs as famed Sec­ond World War gen­eral Zhukov, who con­trols the Red Army and has noth­ing but dis­dain for the politi­cians. “I’m off to rep­re­sent the en­tire red army at the buf­fet,” he tells the politi­cians. “You girls en­joy your­self.”

Hello: Ja­son Isaacs in The Death Of Stalin

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.