I only picked two movies from 2017 Cunard British Film Festival, and of the two, I really looked forward to The Death of Stalin. This film is directed by Armando Iannucci , the Scottish satirist behind the smartly and wickedly funny In the Loop. So, I came to see The Death of Stalin with that expectation. Well, the film is funny and enjoyable, yes – but on a different level.
The Death of Stalin tells a story of the day leading to Josef Stalin’s death in Moscow. Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is shown to be ruthless in eliminating his political opponents and anybody who he perceives as threats. He is surrounded by member of his Central Committee, including the Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the head of NKVD (Stalin’s secret police) Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), the Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and the Minister of Labour Lazar Kaganovich (Dermot Crowley). When Stalin suddenly dies, different members of the Committee have to act quick to fill the power vacuum and position themselves favourably so they can get the top job. Two groups quickly form themselves: Beria and Malenkov (who’s pictured as rather weak and pliable), and Khrushchev and Kaganovich – in a game of political chess game.
The silliness and humour aside, the movie serves as an education tool for me to see the transition of power in Russia after Stalin died. The humour in the movie is less satirical but more ‘English’ humour, à la Monty Python. So, you laugh more at the focus on words and common phrases that are comically dissected, and less so about the absurdity of politics. The ensemble of key actors are impressive, and they all play their part – but the juicy roles lie with Buscemi and Beale and it’s intriguing to watch how Khrushchev and Beria try to outmanoeuvre each other. So, I did enjoy The Death of Stalin for different reasons. However, as I expected a witty, political satire rather than a Monty Pythonesque humour, I came out of the movie threatre feeling unsatisfied.