The Death of Stalin

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The Death of Stalin
The Death of Stalin.png
British theatrical release poster
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Produced by
  • Yann Zenou
  • Laurent Zeitoun
  • Nicolas Duval Adassovsky
  • Kevin Loader
Screenplay by
Based on The Death of Stalin
by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin
Starring
Music by Chris Willis
Cinematography Zac Nicholson
Edited by Peter Lambert
Production
company
  • Main Journey
  • Quad Productions
Distributed by
Release date
  • 8 September 2017 (2017-09-08) (TIFF)
  • 20 October 2017 (2017-10-20) (United Kingdom)
Running time
107 minutes[1]
Country
  • United Kingdom
  • France
Language English

The Death of Stalin is a 2017 British-French political satire film directed by Armando Iannucci. It chronicles the Soviet power struggles occasioned by the death of dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953. The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name, translated from the French original La mort de Staline.

It was released by eOne Films in the United Kingdom on 20 October 2017 and is set to be released in the United States by IFC Films on 9 March 2018.[2][3][1] The film was screened in the Platform section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.[4] The film was well-received internationally but was criticised by some Russian officials and politicians as an attack on Russia and/or Stalin.

Plot[edit]

The film begins with Radio Moscow broadcasting an orchestral performance of Mozart. Once the performance is complete Joseph Stalin (Adrian Mcloughlin) personally calls the head of the radio station (Paddy Considine) to tell him he wants a recording. Since the performance had not been recorded, the radio station head re-stages it, going to such lengths as bringing in people off the street to replicate the acoustics, bribing the disgruntled lead pianist Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) and pressing into service a nearby conductor, after the original, Spartak Sokolov (Justin Edwards) faints and knocks himself unconscious on a fire bucket.

When the recording is complete, Maria hides a note to Stalin, telling him that he has ruined the country. Stalin receives the recording, and as he reads the note, he begins laughing but then suffers a cerebral haemorrhage. The next day, Stalin is discovered and the members of the Central Committee are alerted. The first to arrive are rapacious NKVD head Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), who discovers Maria's note, and Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). As Malenkov panics, Beria begins subtly guiding him to take command in Stalin's absence, hoping to use the weak-willed Malenkov as a puppet.

Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) arrives, followed by the rest of the Committee except for Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), who had been unknowingly added to one of Stalin's enemy lists the night before. Two factions swiftly emerge, Beria and Malenkov, and Khrushchev and Minister of Labour Lazar Kaganovich (Dermot Crowley), with the other Committee members remaining neutral but leaning towards Malenkov as his position seems strongest. Beria begins exerting his influence, closing off Moscow and having the NKVD take over all security duties in the city from the Red Army, as well as replacing Stalin's NKVD enemy lists with his own, reprieving Molotov. The two sides struggle for symbolic victories such as control over Stalin's children (Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough), until Stalin finally expires. The Committee members all desperately rush back to Moscow, as the NKVD loot Stalin's dacha and execute witnesses.

Khrushchev goes to Molotov's home and attempts to enlist his support, but Molotov, as a true believer in Stalinism, opposes any factionalism within the Party, as Beria predicted he would when he chose to spare him. Beria further buys Molotov's loyalty by releasing his wife (Diana Quick) from confinement. Malenkov is named as nominal Premier while being largely controlled by Beria. At the first Committee meeting following Stalin's death, Beria strengthens his own position and sidelines Khrushchev by putting him in charge of Stalin's funeral. He also unexpectedly suggests many of the liberal reforms which Khrushchev himself had planned to introduce. Khrushchev feels compelled to argue against the reforms, but Beria and Malenkov railroad them through.

Stalin's body is laid in state in the Hall of Columns for three days, while many political prisoners are released and restrictions on the Russian Orthodox Church are loosened, earning Beria more popular support. Meanwhile, Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), the leader of the Red Army, arrives and demands to know why the Army has been confined to barracks within Moscow. On the third night, Beria learns that Khrushchev has a passing acquaintance with Maria, who was hired to play at the funeral, and threatens her with the note. Realising that Beria could potentially tie him to treasonous activities, Khrushchev approaches Zhukov, who agrees to provide the Army's support in a coup to overthrow Beria, but only if he has the entire Committee with him. In an attempt to undermine Beria's popularity, Khrushchev orders the trains into Moscow to resume, allowing the thousands of mourners who wish to see Stalin's body into the city, hoping to provoke the NKVD. Sure enough, the NKVD guards manning the barricades around the Hall fire on the crowd, killing 1,500 people. The Committee suggests pinning the blame on some low-level NKVD officers, causing Beria to break down and indirectly threaten the Committee by revealing the incriminating documents he has collected on all of them, as he believes any blame attached to the security services will ultimately tarnish him. Beria is able to calm himself and agrees to the plan, but the other members are visibly shaken, except Malenkov, who remains convinced that Beria is his ally.

The next day, Molotov secretly meets Khrushchev and Kaganovich, and tells them he will support them but only if they can enlist the support of the others, including Malenkov, as he still opposes any factionalism and desires the Committee to be united. The day of the funeral, Khrushchev fails to gain Malenkov's support, but tells the others and Zhukov that he has, winning the support of the Committee and the Army. The Red Army overwhelms the NKVD and takes up positions in the toilets next to the conference room the Committee will meet in after the funeral. At the meeting, Zhukov and his men take Beria into custody and Khrushchev coerces Malenkov into signing the necessary papers for Beria's arrest and trial. Krushchev and his allies find Beria guilty of treason and hundreds of sex crimes in a kangaroo court, and summarily execute him. As Beria's body is burnt, Khrushchev gives Stalina a one-way plane ticket to Vienna and assurances that her brother will be cared for (as it would be dangerous for him to spread his wild conspiracy theories).

Several years later, Khrushchev, now supreme leader of the Soviet Union after removing his co-conspirators, attends a concert given by Maria, while Leonid Brezhnev (Gerald Lepkowski) meaningfully watches him.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The project began development during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Armando Iannucci was set as director and co-writer, alongside regular collaborators David Schneider,[5] The Thick of It co-writer Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows. Production began 20 June 2016, with Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Adrian Mcloughlin, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, and Paul Whitehouse in the cast.[6][7]

Reactions[edit]

In September 2017, the head of the Public Council of the Russian Ministry of Culture said the Russian authorities were considering a ban on the film, which, he alleged, could be part of a "western plot to destabilise Russia by causing rifts in society".[8]

Nikolai Starikov, head of the Russian Great Fatherland Party, said the film was an "unfriendly act by the British intellectual class", and said it was very clear that the film was part of an "anti-Russian information war" aimed at discrediting the figure of Stalin.[9]

Critical response[edit]

The Death of Stalin received critical acclaim. The review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 97% rating with an average score of 8.3/10 sampled from 60 reviews, saying: "The Death of Stalin finds director/co-writer Arnando Iannucci in riotous form, bringing his scabrous political humor to bear on a chapter in history with painfully timely parallels."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 88 out of 100, calculated from 13 critics' reviews, signifying "universal acclaim".[11]

Donald Clarke, writing for The Irish Times wrote that the film "starts in a state of mortal panic and continues in that mode towards its inevitably ghastly conclusion". In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote that "fear rises like gas from a corpse in Armando Iannucci's brilliant horror-satire".

Historical accuracy[edit]

A number of commentators weighed in on the historical accuracy of The Death of Stalin. Historian Richard Overy noted in The Guardian that the film "is littered with historical errors", which can be "viewed as cinematic licence",[12] but was most critical that the film did not appropriately honour Stalin's victims. Director Iannucci stated that he "chose to tone down real-life absurdity" to make the work more believable.[13]

Samuel Goff, at the Department of Slavonic Studies, University of Cambridge, cited several justifiable historical inaccuracies with the ranks and roles of Stalin's inner circle, but found the film missed the overall point and was unable to locate any of the inherent humor contained in Stalinism.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "THE DEATH OF STALIN". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  2. ^ Hipes, Patrick (2017-02-11). "Armando Iannucci's 'The Death Of Stalin' Acquired By IFC Films – Berlin". Deadline. Retrieved 2017-04-03. 
  3. ^ Evans, Greg (October 5, 2017). "'Death Of Stalin' Author Says Trumpian Comedies Must Wait For Final Tweet – NY Comic-Con". Deadline. Retrieved November 26, 2017. 
  4. ^ Kay, Jeremy (3 August 2017). "'The Death Of Stalin' to open Toronto Film Festival Platform programme". ScreenDaily. Retrieved 3 August 2017. 
  5. ^ Calvario, Liz (11 February 2017). "'The Death of Stalin': IFC Films Buys Armando Iannucci's Upcoming Drama". IndieWire. Retrieved 15 October 2017. 
  6. ^ Jaafar, Ali (2016-05-12). "All-Star Cast Boards Armando Iannucci's 'The Death Of Stalin' – Cannes". Deadline. Retrieved 2017-04-03. 
  7. ^ Jaafar, Ali (2016-06-20). "Armando Iannucci's 'The Death Of Stalin' Starts Shoot, Rupert Friend Joins Cast, Closes Deals". Deadline. Retrieved 2017-04-03. 
  8. ^ Bennetts, Marc (20 September 2017). "Russia considers ban on Armando Iannucci's film The Death of Stalin". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  9. ^ Walker, Shaun (14 October 2017). "In Russia, nobody's laughing at Iannucci's The Death of Stalin". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 November 2017. 
  10. ^ "The Death of Stalin". rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 5 November 2017. 
  11. ^ "The Death of Stalin". Metacritic. Retrieved 12 November 2017. 
  12. ^ Overy, Richard (2017-10-18). "Carry on up the Kremlin: how The Death of Stalin plays Russian roulette with the truth". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-12-31. 
  13. ^ White, Adam (2017-10-19). "The Death of Stalin: what really happened on the night that forever changed Soviet history?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-12-31. 
  14. ^ Goff, Samuel (2017-10-23). "The Death of Stalin: a black comic masterpiece? Don't make me laugh". The Calvert Journal. London. Retrieved 2017-12-31. 

External links[edit]