Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurlenko, Steve Buscemi, Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine, Richard Brake, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paul Whitehouse, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Jonathan Aris, Adrian McLoughlin, Gerard Lepkowski, Dermot Crowley, Cara Horgan.
Politics is a game of wills, the necessity of horse trading played out on a global scale and one in which the sides change so quickly that any gains made one individual are soon scattered to the dusty footnotes of history. It is a game that when played well deserves its own satire, the weak and ineffective politicians get forgotten, the ones who scramble to the top have no other choice but to face the fact that even in death they will be satirised and parodied by the best of writers.
Death of Stalin is satire at its very best, a subject of history so brutal that nothing in the modern world could surely find him redeeming; a mass murderer, a repressor of thought, freedom and liberty, a man devoid perhaps of any humanity, at least not shown to those he tried to crush under the iron fist. Yet under the auspicious eye of Armando Iannucci, the fallout from his death provides not only the chance to laugh at a tyrant’s downfall and subtle removal from everyday life but also the shenanigans, the party politics as those who followed in his wake are subjected to the comedy eye of one of Britain’s foremost satirists.
For Simon Russell Beale as the equally dangerous Lavrentiy Beria, one to whom Stalin proclaimed as his own Himmler at the Yalta Conference, the film is perhaps more proof, if any were needed for the absolute grounding that theatre gives an actor, a stalwart of the R.S.C., his presence on screen is that of a giant, every scene he partakes in, he lights up the screen and it takes true force of will, political in itself, to stand toe to toe with him. It takes incredible casting to produce such moments on screen but in Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, Olga Kurlenko and the indomitable Michael Palin as Molotov, what cannot be denied is the absolute class in which the film has at its core and how the camera treats them with great respect.
Satire is the last great reserve for the people when politicians start to believe their own hype, no leader of a nation truly should see themselves as above such barbed words or stinging rebuke. All political careers eventually end in failure, the game becomes too much for their egos, the ones who cause so much death and destruction in their life time, the dictators, the tyrants and the despots have only got there through fear; we have nothing to fear in such a person, and their name should always be one in which to revel in the opportunity to scorn and make fun off.
Ian D. Hall