Directed by Armando Iannucci
With Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse
Released on October 20th 2017
Reviewed by John Owen
Set during the last days of Stalin’s rule where the beginning of a severe powerful struggle for supremacy amongst Khrushchev and Laurentiy Beria (NKVD security chief), set the tone for a riotous examination of the end of dictatorship.
In a world were everything and everyone is done collectively, this parody of communist methods, morality and apparent idiocy is given the full Hollywood treatment
However, the central role of Khrushchev stole it for me, played by Steve Buscemi, in his manic attempts to thwart Beria, blackmailing everyone, in his lust for succession, including a note in his possession belonging to one of his piano playing diva conquests, that was found on Stalin. Evidence of his guilt perhaps.
Stalin dies reading a note a criticism of him and his totalitarian rule. That he has murdered thousands, if not millions, in the cause of socialism and a communist future of humanity. The blackness of the humour is savagely drawn from the farcical vaudevillian approach to the action.
Deadpan and cynical to the last, well acted and supremely timed, all managed to purvey the all consuming fear of Stalin’s reign of terror.
With the Lubyanka (prison) torture and confessions beaten out of the suspects, everybody walking a tightrope. the wonderful Michael Palin, voting for the arrests of his own wife, and admitting, although innocent, she may have been a criminal.
The absurdities of crimes committed, all the doctors in Moscow, are in prison, so no one is able to diagnose or wants to, Stalin’s condition. There is a reference to an infamous doctors plot of poisoning.
This is a Swiftian bitter satire, and then some, of Stalinist rule. The crumbling of the regime and its opening up, although only partially with the reign of Khrushchev. 1953 saw the East German uprising and 1956 saw the Hungarian uprising.
But politics aside the whole edifice is skilfully crafted from beginning to end and doesn’t slacken off the pace and builds to a crescendo. It leaves you laughing strangely at the mostly vicious and anti-communist, so called communist, that ever lived.
A must see for lefty pinko liberals who couldn’t actually make it back to Russia before Perestroika and Glasnost.