In a case of real life being very much stranger than fiction, The Death Of Stalin plays out like Monty Python teaching a class on Russian history (the film even features MP player Michael Palin). Writer/director Armando Iannucci (Veep, In The Loop) mines the rich vein of actual weirdness that has taken place in the name of the leadership of Russia and created something very funny.
Joseph Stalin had a big title, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a big effect on the direction of Russian history during his reign from the mid twenties until his death in 1953 . He was also one of histories greatest mass murderers and when he died he left behind a power vacuum that many were eager to fill and more than willing to do anything to make it happen.
Chief among his potential successors were Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) but standing in their way was Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Beria was head of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, known as the NKVD. A bloody organisation that carried out Stalin’s dirty work. Via much Machiavellian activity by the above mentioned players Beria is framed and eventually executed.
In the film everyone is played as an entitled power mad fool and the laughs arrive with great frequency. Knowing the actual extent of the tragedy and loss of life that plagues Russian history should prevent you from laughing quite so much but it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that you only think about this after the great farce seen on screen has ended.