The Death of Stalin is a riot

November 21, 2017

Go and see Armando Iannucci’s dark political comedy The Death of Stalin, if you can. And if you think blood-drenched dictators and their henchmen are beyond parody, think again.

Iannucci’s satirical eye, cast so effectively over Westminster in The Thick of It and Washington in Veep, focuses in The Death of Stalin on the Soviet (“Communist”) party and state leaders as they struggled with the fallout from the dictator’s demise in March 1953.

Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of Lavrenty Beria, who headed Stalin’s secret police, stole the film, in my eyes. Playing a psychotic,

Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrenty Beria (Simon Russell Beale) over Stalin’s near-dead body. A still from The Death of Stalin

sadistic mass murderer and rapist for laughs isn’t easy, and he shifts through the gears – menacing to manipulating to cynical – in fractions of a second.

If Malcolm Tucker, the deranged Alistair-Campbell-esque The Thick of It character played by Peter Capaldi, said he was going to gouge someone’s eyes out, you’d know he could not do, and never had done, such a thing. When Russell Beale’s Beria says it, you know he could, and has, done it. And not just once.

There are many strong performances in The Death of Stalin. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, who eventually rose to succeed Stalin as general secretary: not as stupid as he seems. Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s deputy: hollowed-out, gaunt and guileless. Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter: on the edge of a nervous breakdown (and Rupert Friend as her brother Vasily, who had one long ago.) Jason Isaacs as Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who rose to power and popularity after leading the Soviet army in the second world war: myth-rich hero played as swashbuckling Yorkshireman.

Iannucci’s humour works because there is a serious thread in it. When Beria reminds Khrushchev and Vyacheslav Molotov (played by Read the rest of this entry »

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Remember the biggest ever revolt against war

November 6, 2017

On Saturday the UK will mark Armistice Day. An official cult of remembrance requires that this week people in the public eye – politicians, newsreaders, sports personalities and so on – wear the red poppy that commemorates British service personnel.

I am wearing the white poppy, that commemorates all the victims of all wars. It’s a white poppysocialist, anti-militarist tradition that I think should be spread more widely.

The horrible destruction in Syria, unleashed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad to protect his power from a popular uprising and generalised into a multi-sided war, is reason enough to wear the white poppy.

And this year it can also serve as a reminder of the greatest popular anti-military uprising in history – in Russia in the summer of 1917.

The women workers of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) began the 1917 revolution in February, by striking and demonstrating against the first world war (in which Russia was allied with Britain and France) and the hardships it brought.

Soldiers of the Petrograd garrison, by refusing to fire on the protesters and pledging Read the rest of this entry »