What happens in a brutal totalitarian dictatorship when the person who was at the pinnacle of power is suddenly no more? That’s the question tackled by this 2017 Armando Iannucci film that extracts a wickedly dark humor from one of the darkest periods of the 20th century.
“The Death of Stalin” continues the director’s trademark acerbic wit and foul-mouthed, quick-fire dialogue, which was made famous in the British TV comedy satirizing modern government, “The Thick of It.”
The drama charts the scrabbling for survival of the Soviet Union’s most powerful figures, who had survived the dictator’s purges of Communist Party members. They desperately jostle for position while still professing loyalty to their dead leader, setting up farcical set pieces, including an excruciating autopsy scene.
All the while, preparations for Stalin’s funeral are under way as the leadership must not flinch in demonstrating reverence for their fallen leader to the masses.
“The Death of Stalin” is not easy to watch, but the star cast, including Michael Palin as Molotov and Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev, are scarily convincing as the mad power struggle at the top of one of history’s most destructive regimes unfolds.
The film also offers a salutary lesson on the checks and balances of power at a time when authoritarianism is again on the rise.