In terms of body count, Stalin is responsible for more deaths than Hitler and the Nazis. So why make a comedy about the demise of, arguably, the evillest man in history? Because it is rightfully hilarious.

Steve Buscemi’s conspiring “Nikita Kruschev” competes for power against Simon Russel Beale’s equally conniving “Lavrentiy Beria” as they both try and maintain order and control Stalin’s panicked central committee. Based off the French book of the same name – “La mort de Staline” – the film takes us through a rollercoaster ride via the Russian people’s response, the various committee meetings and Stalin’s funeral service, showing different aspects to this landmark in history. Steve Buscemi reclaims former acting glory, spouting out lines faster than any of the committee members running to comfort Stalin’s daughter and gain her favour. Jason Isaacs also gives a surprisingly strong performance as the domineering head of the Red army “Georgy Zhukof”.

The death of Stalin is a rare treat for comedy lovers as, currently, we are in an age of ‘simple comedy’, meaning a lot of movies now rely on the stupidity of characters and slapstick to get laughs. Thankfully, the death of Stalin does not subscribe to these same ideals. It is very much a black comedy, with the humour relying on clever lines, character interactions and the absurd situations that the individuals involved find themselves in. The director, Armando Iannucci, uses his impressive writing skills to not only keep the viewer laughing, but also giving us time to reflect on the events unfolding. I confess that I have no real knowledge of this point in history, yet I still found it a delight, meaning anyone who loves history, especially Russian history, will absolutely adore this picture.

Of course, being a British-French comedy, it is inevitable for scepticism being aimed at the validity of events being shown. This is certainly the belief of current Russian cultural ministers who are considering a ban on the film. However, after doing some brief research online, it is apparent that the majority of the film is accurate to real life which, in the end, makes the film that much more comedic. Although, the film is not perfect, whilst being a black comedy it certainly lies heavily on the comedic side giving less thought, than may be necessary, to the horrors that our protagonists have committed in the past. As a result, it loses the thought-provoking angle of if we should support the people we are viewing or otherwise. Characters, such as Olga Kurylenko’s Stalin-hating “Maria Yudina”, are criminally underutilised. Also, the film does jump around a lot, occasionally revealing what felt like a couple days being a few weeks, this can take you out of the film, but it doesn’t affect overall enjoyment.

If you feel like a Russian guard debating whether to investigate the death of one of the most tyrannical men in history, consider it as a new take on history. Even though it it may not take itself as seriously as the subject matter may require and there is no sign of a Russian accent anywhere, the death of Stalin is still a shining light for comedy, similar to what it was for history.

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Michael Humphreys

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