Film Review ~ The Death of Stalin (Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale)

The court of Stalin was populated with cringing, bullying, mediocre psychopaths. Psychopath-in-chief Beria (Simon Russell Beale) moves from a boozy, jocular meeting with Stalin straight to the torture chambers of ‘his’ prison. Throughout the film he jokes about torture. Lists of people to be arrested are handed over in a way demonstrating the truth of Hannah Arendt’s phrase ‘the banality of evil’. Beria is the evil genius who wants Stalin’s job.

Likewise Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi). His every move is choreographed. This extends to his drunken behaviour in Stalin’s presence. On returning home after a session with Stalin, he takes notes of what actions/jokes went down well and what didn’t. Re-reading these notes the next morning is a wonderful comic moment. Stalin’s death offers an opportunity for both Beria and Khrushchev. They are in deadly competition. Each knows that whoever succeeds Stalin will have the other executed.

The machinations of Beria and Khrushchev are the heart of the film. Their weak and fearful colleagues all have blood on their hands and they all fear each other. A cameo appearance by Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) all bluff, down-to-earth soldier is wonderful and his scenes make the film worth seeing on its own. Needless to relate he resolves the critical Beria/Khrushchev issue in a ‘soldierly’ fashion.

Why you should see this film: It’s political satire at its best

Why you shouldn’t see this film: It has scenes of utter brutality.

A grown-up review is here

You might want to read this extract from Solzhenitsyn to get the flavour of life in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

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