First Hit: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.
One of the beginning scenes has Stalin’s chief calling the radio station asking Andreyev (Paddy Considine) to call Stalin directly in 17 minutes. The ensuing discussion between Andreyev and Sergei (Tom Brooke), his co-producer, about when the 17 minutes are up was hilarious. Was it when the phone rang? Was it when he said call him back in 17 minutes? Was it when he hung up the phone?
This dialogue sets the stage about the power Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) wielded in Russia. Everyone jumped at his every word and wanted to do no wrong or they’d be shot or sent to prison never to be heard from again. They had to get it right.
When Andreyev does call back and Stalin says he wants a recording of the live program he just heard them broadcast, they panic because they didn’t record the concert. So he rushes back into the concert hall, makes everyone sit down in their seats, and perform the concert all over again. Hilarious and pointed in that it notes the fear Stalin put into everyone.
Stalin’s governing group includes his Chief of Staff and second in command Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi). This small group with a couple others are all vying to be the next in line and try to create power plays.
When Stalin has a stroke because of a note Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) sends him, the film then goes to additional funny scenes including Stalin’s governing group kneeling and not kneeling next to Stalin’s body as it lay there on the floor because he had pissed himself was hilarious.
The rest of the film deals with who will get control of the country and how will they do it. It plays through a funny set of scenes around Stalin’s lying in state and his funeral. There are so many funny bits in this film, I’d have to see it again to take it all in, but one thing is clear, what was portrayed was totally possible.
Considine was perfect as the befuddle producer who wanted to make sure he did what Stalin wanted. His questions to his co-producer and then the scenes of how he made the audience go through the performance again was priceless. Brooke was excellent as co-producer who knew well enough to only provide an opinion but not take any responsibility for the concert recording. McLoughlin was wonderful as Stalin. He even looked like some of the pictures I’d seen of him. His casual cruelty was clearly apparent. Tambor was particularly funny as second in command. Always walking a fine line and choosing many different sides as the film went on. Beale was perfect as the plodding technocrat looking for a leg up on the others in the ruling party. Buscemi was sublime as Khrushchev. His slow plotting a takeover obviously worked because he became the President of The Soviet Union. Kurylenko was wonderful as the piano player who instigated Stalin’s demise. Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter was wonderful. Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, and Ian Martin wrote an engagingly smart funny script. Plenty of history thrown was thrown into this mix of pointed funny scenes. Iannucci did a great job of directing this excellent comedy.
Overall: This film has enough historical references to make it relevant and by adding comedy a fun way to see history.