Film: The Death of Stalin
Well-deserved ridicule of Stalinism is impressive, funny but flawed
Caroline Vincent, Leicester Socialist Party
‘The Death of Stalin’ is the latest offering from Armando Iannucci, the acclaimed writer and producer behind an impressive canon of comedies including the political satires ‘The Thick of It’, ‘In The Loop’, and most recently ‘Veep’.
Based on the graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, it examines the period immediately preceding and following the demise of the despot, and the effects on his sycophantic entourage.
The events provide plenty of dark humour – much to the disgust of historian Richard Overy. His inexplicable review for the Guardian bemoaned both the plot’s historical inaccuracies, and the fact it is played for laughs! Perhaps somebody should have told him he was reviewing a comedy.
While there’s no doubt artistic license has been taken, the inspiration comes from real events – some of which were truly farcical.
Stalin suffers a stroke and lays undiscovered for hours as his personal guards are too scared to enter his office and disturb him.
No one knows which doctor to call as most of them have been rounded up and imprisoned due to Stalin’s paranoia.
And there is reluctance to use a respirator as it is American-made – a detail that has been recounted in both Nikita Khrushchev’s and Stalin’s daughter Svetlana’s real-life memoirs.
There is an impressive ensemble cast. Notably Jeffrey Tambor as Stalin’s deputy Georgy Malenkov, Michael Palin as diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov, a menacing Simon Russell Beale as spymaster Lavrentiy Beria, and Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, “the reformer.”
The plot revolves around Beria and Khrushchev’s struggle to succeed Stalin, while simultaneously managing his lavish state funeral.
Fans of The Thick of It’s lampooning of New Labour will notice parallels. The Stalinists, like the Blairites, are egotistical buffoons, completely isolated from the experiences of the working class, seeking guidance from equally clueless advisors.
Without a doubt there are many laughs to be had. But this is not without flaws – at times the humour is disappointingly base, misogynistic even.
The 2017 release coincides with the centenary of the Russian revolution. But while the ridicule of Stalin’s savage regime is well-deserved, it goes nowhere toward clarifying the important role played by the old Bolsheviks under Lenin in freeing Russian workers and peasants from the tsarist regime.
Indeed, the timing of the theatrical release is likely to fuel the media’s conflation of workers’ democracy with the brutal, counterrevolutionary dictatorship of Stalinism.
- Socialism 2017 (11 and 12 November, central London)
Discussions include: ‘Was Lenin a dictator?’ and ‘What is the legacy of the 1917 October revolution in Russia?’
Find out more and book tickets at socialism2017.net
- Read more about the Russian revolution at 1917revolution.org