Another of those films I hoped I'd like more than it turned out to be. A reputedly 'biting' comedy which did manage to draw maybe four or five laughs from me despite my not finding it anything like as funny as many of the large audience did.
Director Armando Ianucci (and co-writer, along with David Schneider) is one of this country's foremost and well-regarded satirists, though apart from his 'Alan Partridge' radio and TV shows and one feature film (all of which I found immensely amusing), I've never quite managed to get onto the same wavelength with his other creations. Even his well-received, sardonically political feature film 'In the Loop' (2009) left me largely unmoved.
Here he's come up with a comedy around the sudden death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and its immediate aftermath, with the undignified shambles of leading Russian politicians jockeying for power and influence in the continuing Communist administration.
He brings together a host of (mostly) established British actors - Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine, Paul Whitehouse - all speaking in a range of British accents, reflecting the fact that Russian accents too are multifarious. All these are near-eclipsed by the clownish presence of Steve Buscemi, here playing Nikita Krushchev who, despite haplessly floundering, is still very much his own man, and who would three years later, succeed to the topmost 'job'.
It's largely a farce - verbal joshing and needling and some knockabout stuff - but what makes this very different is that it's set against the horrors of Stalin-era brutality - torture, imprisonment, summary 'justice' with immediate executions. We see some grisly scenes though they are not quite overplayed, being merely sufficient to give an idea (if we hadn't already guessed) of the sort of things that did go on.
The film is a tightrope act between humour and horror, the latter clearly intended to 'point up' the other. For some it seems to have worked. I only wish it had done so for me, the nasty taste left in the mouth lingering just too ominously for me to fully appreciate the surrounding lighter moments.
Female presence is thin - Andrea Riseborough as Stalin's daughter showing some dignity up against Rupert Friend as her drunken, megalomaniac and living embarrassment of a brother.
Then there's Olga Kurylenko as Stalin foe and concert pianist. But neither of these have anything like as much to do as the men.
Among the motley of undesirable characters it's Simon Russell Beale's 'Lavrentiy Beria' who carries the most weight and authority and is the most terrifying, someone whose mere slight nod can signal the end of a foe.
I will give the film one thing - it's very different from anything else I've seen, so it scores well for originality. But whether it all comes together as a cohesive, satisfying entertainment I'd find more problematic to maintain. A lot of it does work. For me just as much of it didn't - which doesn't mean that you'd agree.................6.
2 hours ago