Armando Ianucci’s new film is a witty political satire piece examining the lack of morality and the culture of fear at the height of Soviet communism. The casual way in which torture and calculated murder are approached in the film is simultaneously shocking for the audience, and adds to its tragi-comedic nature. For example, there is a scene in which “Long Live Stalin!” is used as a proclamation before executing people, increasing the intersection of comedy and absurdity.
Furthermore, the cast itself is an all-star line-up of comedic actors, with Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin. The Central Committee are the archetypal masculine politicians and their introduction to the audience marks them as a group of people who know each other well – as if they are merely a group of friends. They share a similar crude sense of humour and the teasing nature of their jabs at one another implies a sense of closeness.
Throughout the film, however, the audience is reminded of the relentless current of ruthlessness and risk which exists within the Committee due to power struggles and corruption. Despite many of the committee members displaying a mournful and panicked reaction to Stalin being struck by illness, it is obvious that there is a sense of competition and a premeditated plan to shift power. This is conveyed brilliantly through Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of the chief of secret police, Lavrentiy Beria.
The film is littered with patriotic landscape shots of Moscow and the Kremlin as well as propaganda poster-like scene breaks alluding to the original graphic novel (upon which the film is based). This is a nice touch which helps break up the film and keep it relatively light, especially in the midst of the chaos which ensues after Stalin’s death.
The film itself has faced a risk of being banned in Russia due to its unagreeable portrayal of Stalin and Russian history. Indeed, it cannot be held up as a paradigm for historical accuracy. Nonetheless, it does help if you have some knowledge about the events of 1953, which would also allow more of an appreciation of its jokes.
The film’s Blackadder-esque style, as well as the awkward stilted absurdness of some of the characters’ behaviour, can be hilarious but probably more appreciated if you were a middle-aged male history buff. All in all, an entertaining film but catered to a specific audience.
Image: Entertainment One