A specialist in black humour whose television and film work includes the scathing political satires The Thick of It, Veep, and the Oscar-nominated IN THE LOOP (IFFBoston 2009), Armando Iannucci is in his element with this acerbic send-up of the Soviet Supremo and his band of scheming bootlicks. Deploying a wide range of English-speaking actors with an assortment of accents—Cockney, Brooklyn, Liverpool—Iannucci sends a not-so-subtle message that Stalin and his inner circle were a bunch of arrivistes who wound up at the helm of a Cold War superpower.
The year is 1953. Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) seems in hale (albeit paranoid) condition, terrorizing everyone, summarily killing off any suspected dissenters, and keeping even his cronies on edge. That comes to an abrupt halt one morning when the dictator is found belly-up on the floor of his office following a stroke. What follows is Iannucci’s version of hijinks: the plotting and jostling for power by a group of connivers who cowered under their boss. All of the top lackeys are in contention—milquetoast Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), wiseguy Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), bewildered Molotov (Michael Palin), thuggish Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), and depraved Beria (Simon Russell Beale), with Stalin’s drunken son Vasily (Rupert Friend) and jaded daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) off to the side. They move with the clumsiness of aspirants not up to the job but desperate for it anyway.
Within the burlesque of THE DEATH OF STALIN is a timely allegory about venal, unfit leaders and corrupt governance—the kind of comedy that is Iannucci’s specialty. It’s not hard to imagine similar, if less bloody, events unfolding in a different capital today.
—Toronto International Film Festival guide
Simon Russell Beale
Thursday, March 87:30
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