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Review: The Death of Stalin – “Unmissable”

Like a Dostoyevsky novel, trying to retain the names of a Russian troupe of characters can often be tricky. However, it’s also safe to say that there a wealth of enjoyment, humour and tension to be found in stories from that country. Armando Iannucci has dug into Russia’s historical politics to find such treasures, and brings The Death Of Stalin to cinemas. It’s not a strictly Russian depiction, with British and American accents superseding the homegrown tongue, but it most certainly reflects a cold and darkly funny world hinted at in other Russian work – just with a few names that aren’t particularly easy to recall.

From bringing us In The Thick Of It, In The Loop and Veep, Iannucci knows how to hilariously mock modern-day politics. And as The Death Of Stalin shows – give him any era, in any country, and he’ll most certainly have you howling with laughter over political antics. It is also a much darker piece of work that we’ve come to expect from him. This is not to say the film falls into a ‘dramedy’ category, but there are moments where you do have to ruminate on the history and truth of it all. It’s a mature step in his writing and direction, further exemplifying him as one of the best creative talents Great Britain has to offer. If we can let time pass on topics of great tragedy and strife, and find the humour in it, Iannucci needs to be the one to tell it.

As well as proving Iannucci’s worth once more, the film furthers the profiles of each cast member. You have Steve Buscemi returning to comedy after a lot of dramatic roles, Jeffrey Tambor effortlessly continuing his comedy career, Michael Palin gloriously back on the screen, and Jason Isaacs stealing so many scenes. Above all, it is Simon Russell Beale who gets the attention that has been waned for a long time. Beale is absolutely terrific, and wondrously horrid as Beria, doubtlessly a performance that will instantly reinvigorate his career.

As an ensemble, they are all just perfect and, were it not for an underused Paul Whitehouse (who should have been paired with Harry Enfield, in a perfect world), you can not fault the characterisation and balance. They also have these amazing backdrops to play off, and often feel like toy soldiers in the makeshift stage of a child (albeit, a very politically-minded, witty one). The degree of falseness to it makes it so much funnier – trying to play it straight, as the real-life figures would have, whilst tripping up over the stupidity of the political encroachments.

It is something that deserves to be seen with a crowd. Its frames are full of silliness and physical – as well as scripted – comedy and whilst one might miss a gag, a giggle from another audience member might direct you to something you hadn’t noticed. It plays off your expectations of not only the accents but also the actors’ personalities; each is so well suited to their Russian counterparts. In doing this, you have a room full of people laughing at various things, along with the broad jokes.

Armando Iannucci’s craft and silly bones now bring us more ace one-liners and a film that can shock as much as it can serve to entertain. It’s not as punchy as some of his older work, but it’s working off a different style and focus, therefore giving it a new edge. Even if you don’t find it as perfect as In The Thick Of It, Alan Partridge, or In The Loop, there’s no question of it being unmissable.

The Death of Stalin opens in UK cinemas on 20th October 2017.

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