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The Death of Stalin (2017) Review

On March 5th 1953, Josef Stalin died of a cerebral haemorrhage. What followed was a cut-throat scramble of his highest-ranking officials. Power-hungry bloodhounds clawing away at old wounds in the political system, orchestrating one of the biggest takeovers of the largest country in the world. To craft a comedy film out of the events that immediately followed the death of one of history’s most infamous dictators would be an extremely difficult task to pull off. Anything to come from the mind of Armando Iannucci is bound to be a great piece of film, so it’s no surprise that The Death of Stalin, a comedy that looks to dissect those very events, is nothing short of a maddeningly hilarious blend of fact and fiction. 

The detail and attention to factual information and relevance is superb, it made the A-Level History part of my life feel like it hadn’t been a waste of two years. Perhaps the only use I’ll ever get out of that flimsy bit of paper is that I don’t need to Google how to spell Krushchev. Speaking of Krushchev, he makes for the most tangible lead character. Played by Steve Buscemi, it’s no real surprise that he brings to life such a conniving character with relative ease. Buscemi is a tremendous talent, and the chemistry he provides to the scenes he appears in is truly vital to how the film works. For all the talent his performance exudes, and how much of the spotlight he hogs, Buscemi is merely a cog in the very large machine that is this Iannucci tale. A prophetic and mesmerising ensemble cast come together to provide some of the most uproarious scenes ever put to film. Jeffrey Tambour, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse and Jason Isaacs are just a few big names among a sea of power-hungry narcissists looking to take a pop at the leadership of the country.  

It all comes together in a tremendously funny fashion. We should expect nothing less from a screenplay penned by some of the finest working writers in the comedy industry. Iannucci is a tremendous talent, tirelessly piecing together some intricate hilarity in the director’s chair. After In the Loop, there was an unprecedentedly high bar to reach. To follow up one masterpiece with a close second is an extremely respectable result. The Death of Stalin hits more or less the same notes as its modern-day political equivalent, depicting a series of car crash decisions that lead to in-fighting hilarity.  

A cast that comes together under the watchful, perfect eye of a director that doesn’t feel the need for his artistic decisions to overtake the beautifully paced script, The Death of Stalin is a prime example of what the comedy genre can offer. It’s a glimmer of hope in an otherwise oversaturated genre. Comedy has gradually declined, there are less and less great options per year, so it’s nice to have a sprinkling of hope with something like The Death of Stalin. A film that finds the fun in frenzied horrors, backstabbing and power-hungry demons. It’s a hilarious history lesson.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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