In Iannucci’s second theatrical release, after 2009’s ‘In the Loop’, the satirist known for TV shows such as ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It,’ takes a break from satirising modern politics to a satire about the aftermath of Stalin’s death. It may be a whole different time period and continent, but Ianucci’s gift for political satire and truly inspired foul-mouthed insults (my favourite being ‘get your hands off me you rude f***ing pies!’ ) makes this one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
We’re introduced to each of the main character’s via slow-mo shots and title cards, a possible nod to the film’s comic book roots (the film is based on the graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin). From the get go we’re made aware that there are no “good guys,” just “least terrible.” There’s Jeffrey Tambor, playing the pompous and somewhat useless Malenkov, Simon Russel Beale as the sadistic head of the NKVD (Secret Police) Beria, and the stressed-out and scheming Politician Khrushchev, played excellently by Steve Buschemi. Much of the humour comes from them bickering for control as well as a lot of physical comedy. The decision for the actors to keep their original accents was a masterstroke, instead of making it surreal it actually grounds the characters in our world more, not only working in terms of comedy, but also in terms of drama such as Beale’s middle class accent , which brings a chilling banality to his sadistic actions.
However the one exception in the cast is Jason Isaacs’ adoption of a Yorkshire accent for his portrayal of Commander Zhukov. Again, a stroke of genius here, as the accent highlights Zhukov’s refusal to be intimidated or at all panicked like the other members of the cast. Isaacs deliver’s each line like a punch in the face, ”I took on Hitler, I think I can take a flesh lump in a waist-coat.”
While it’s made clear that none of the cast has the people of Russia’s best interests at heart, Khrushchev is given as the best option, the least horrific person in a horrific regime. The film thrives on its comedic momentum, but doesn’t shy away from very dramatic and serious moments when it needs to. The film leaves me in anticipation of what country or period Iannuci will focus on next. Stormont should be so lucky.
Director: Armando Iannucci.
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough.