The Death of Stalin

Jacob Richardson | 11/04/2018

Consistently hilarious, adroit and intriguing, The Death of Stalin delivers on the promise of great actors, delivering great material, in a great setting.

When Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) dies, he sets of a power struggle between the most important people in the motherland; his son Vasily (Rupert Friend), his daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Field Marshal Zhukov (Jason Isaacs). It’s a bloody, brutal and hilarious struggle.


Director Armando Lannucci perfectly pitches the tone of this film. Every line is subtly comedic, and this cast of impeccable talent delivers it with aplomb.


From the scene where a distraught Paddy Considine has to convince an orchestra and audience to re-perform a symphony for recording for Stalin, to the impossibly stupid, but knee-slappingly funny scene where the Khrushchev tries to switch positions with Malenkov during the funeral procession, The Death of Stalin never lets up, and never breaks with it’s philosophy of smart humour over easy, or easily accessible, humour.


Visually, it’s also stunning, with Lannucci bringing all the contrasting splendour and dilapidation of Soviet-era Russia to life. From a cinematography perspective, he also has a unique and engrossing way of introducing us to these important characters. This is no more so exemplified than in the entrance of laddish Field Marshal Zhukov, who throws off his awarded military coat in a slow motion shot that gets the blood pumping.


There’s something admirable, and inherently funny, about the mish-mash amalgamation of the British and American accents with the Russian history and culture; it creates a commentary not just on this time in Russia, but on our own modern day culture, interlinking the two in a powerful adroitness. Lannucci effectively conveys the fallibility of leadership, the ineffectualness of the best laid plans, and the unreliability of friendship, or comradeship, in this tale that feels more relevant with every passing day. And he does so while making you laugh.


The Death of Stalin is a masterpiece in subtle, British comedy set amongst a decidedly Russian backdrop.