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The Death Of Stalin Review

Iannucci Takes On Stalin

Armando Iannucci (Veep (TV), The Thick Of It (TV)) appears to have a passion for politics, whether that be mocking it or looking at the more amusing moments it’s provided.

With Death Of Stalin, Iannucci and fellow writers David Schneider (28 Days Later, Josh (TV)), Ian Martin (Veep (TV), The Thick Of It (TV)) and Peter Fellows (Prime Cut (TV), Year 9 Houseparty (Short)) have taken Fabien Nury’s (Guyane (TV), The Tiger Brigades) original screenplay, itself taken from the comic book he co-wrote with Thierry Robin, and brought it to the big screen for you.

The story begins as Stalin, Adrian McLoughlin (Thunderpants, Kingdom (TV)), kicks the bucket after reading a note written by a concert pianist, Olga Kurylenko (Gun Shy, Seven Psychopaths).

This starts a scramble by his committee as they attempt to one-up each other to take over power given the official replacement, Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development (TV), Transparent (TV)), is a bit of a wet fish.

The struggle centres around two main characters, Steve Buscemi (Transformers: The Last Knight, The Boss Baby) and Simon Russell Beale (Penny Dreadful (TV), Into The Woods).

Beale, as head of the secret service, makes an early land-grab, blocking the army and putting his own forces in place. Buscemi meanwhile, rallies the remainder of the troops in the background; Michael Palin (Absolutely Anything, Arthur Christmas), Paul Whitehouse (The Fast Show (TV), Alice Through The Looking Glass), Dermot Crowley (Luther (TV), The Foreigner) and Paul Chahidi (This Country (TV), The Voices).

The power swings from one to the other as they go about making the position their own before Buscemi manages to get the head of the army on his side and the power swings one-way.

I was truly looking forward to watching The Death Of Stalin after seeing the trailers which looked hilarious, it’s even billed as a comedy.

It’s a shame then, that despite some moments, it’s not really that funny. It feels as if it is trapped in this middle ground of attempting to do a comedy about a really ugly part of history, whilst not trying to take things too far or upset anyone.

Most of the English characters either talk in their own accents or put on strong northern accents, whilst the Americans are themselves. This is funny at the start, but you get used to it quickly.

It’s not until Jason Isaacs (A Cure For Wellness, Fury) arrives as the head of the army that you are reminded how ridiculous sounding the whole thing is. Isaacs looks like he’s having a lot of fun playing this brash man in charge, it’s certainly fun to watch.

The stand-out performance must go to Simon Russell Beale though. His portrayal of this sinister-yet-trying to be charming head of the secret service is a remarkable one. He’s unnerving at all the right points and creepy in all the wrong ones, which are the right ones, if you see what I mean.

The Death Of Stalin is a great looking film with some stand-out performances. Unfortunately, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the funniest moments in the movie and the bits in between aren’t enough to keep you warmed for when the next jokes arrive.

Perhaps though, this particular subject matter shouldn’t try to rely on jokes, perhaps there are some things that need to be serious. The Death Of Stalin seems caught between the two.

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