Thursday, November 16, 2017
Armando Iannucci has made a career out of taking the piss out of people in high places, as viewers of Veep and The Thick of It will attest. Therefore it came as no surprise that he was doing the same with the Death of Stalin. However, having read as much as I have about that brute and his creepy sidekick Beria, I couldn’t help feeling queasy about this film. Despite the impressive setting, the attention to detail around the uniforms etc., and the actual historical framework on which it was built, it still felt wrong to treat a subject as evil and destructive as Stalin in a humorous manner. He was responsible for millions more deaths than Hitler but can you imagine the fuss that would be generated if the Holocaust was treated thus. It was like watching Carry On Up the Kremlin. This impression was reinforced by seeing Paul Whitehouse as Mikoyan channel Kenneth Williams with his fixed sneer and gurning. It was also difficult to take seriously the incorrigibly mild Michael Palin as Molotov. Steve Buscemi as a very slim Khrushchev, and Simon Russell Beale as a very fat Beria were both superb. And a late appearance by Jason Isaacs as military hero Zhukov well-nigh stole the show. It was all very entertaining but for me it left a very bad aftertaste. Of course satire is to be encouraged where our ruling classes are concerned, when they’re alive – it may give them pause. But what’s the point, other than entertainment, of satirising the dead. I would love to see that period of Russian history, with all its violence and manoeuvring, receive a dramatic rather than a comic treatment.