The Death of Stalin

Leave it to an Italian director, Armando Iannucci, to make fun of one of the landmark events of the twentieth century—the death of Josef Stalin (played by Adrian McLoughlin). Although The Death of Stalin subtitles all members of Stalin’s cabinet (Politburo) as they make their appearance, the most vivid part of the beginning is the roundup of those on Stalin’s “enemy” list, a matter of pride for KGB head Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). A subplot involves Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), who plays Mozart. When Stalin demands a record of her performance after the concert has ended, and much of the audience has already left, she demands a high price to perform a second time. Soon after Stalin receives the record, however, he has a heart attack. Rather than calling a physician, the Politburo lets him gradually die. But then Stalin’s daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) insists that his death must be confirmed by a physician, so they round up the few in Moscow who had not previously been sent to Siberia. Stalin’s son (Danya Bochkov) also misbehaves and has to be put under control. But the rest of the film then devolves into a struggle for power among members of the Politburo to determine Stalin’s successor. Scheming Nikita “Nikky” Khrushchëv (Steve Buscemi) wins out in the end, but the struggle tales two years. Stalin had picked Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) as his #2, but he is portrayed as senile. Beria, who has the power of the KGB, threatens everyone, including Malenkov, who names him as his deputy. Nikky then summons Field Marshal Georgi Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) so that the army can take over the KGB. That clears the way for Nikky. Titles at the end indicate that Nikki was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev (Gerald Lepkowski) in 1960.

But all these facts are well known. The film is dotted with jokes. Stalin, the Politburo, and even Zhukov are played as fools, though they appear as clowns.

Is it possible that director Iannucci anticipates a similar film on the demise of Donald Trump? Filmviewers surely hope so. MH