Full confession: Armando Iannucci has never quite clicked for me. Perhaps that’s because I’ve only watched his television work. Veep and The Thick of It are undeniably intelligent and sharply written, but they’re also sort of …mean. It’s not just the terrible people – I love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia after all! – but that you’re expected to sympathise with them.
Those problems evaporate in Iannucci’s latest film, The Death of Stalin, largely because there’s no-one in these film you’d even consider sympathising with. As you’d guess from the title, the story’s set amidst the Soviet struggle for power after Stalin passes away in 1953. Iannucci strikes a balance between veracity – centring on real events and real historical figures – and an utter disdain for same, allowing his talented cast to sport their natural accents whether American (Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor) or English (Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs).
While only occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious, The Death of Stalin is funny throughout. It’s a very black comedy, with more than a few on-screen executions, but it never comes across as gratuitous. In light of the current situation in American and Australian politics, this satire of politician’s grotesque, gymnastic self-interest well and truly hits the mark.