How do you make a comedy featuring a man who murdered millions of people with the aid of his willing accomplices? By making it a very dark comedy. There are some laugh out loud moments but most of its funniest moments also prompt flickers of horror. The Death of Stalin manages to remind one of the deaths of millions but avoids lingering on the crushing reality in an effort to focus on the how ridiculous it all was. It is also not a political film, portraying Stalin's reign in personal, not ideological terms, though for those who know the full history of those terrible times it is a searing indictment of communism.
Verdict of History: A very good film. It often feels like an episode of The Sopranos, featuring Stalin's Politburo as Tony's made Mafia men. Outstanding casting, particularly Simon Russell Beale as the cynical and loathsome Laventri Beria, Jason Isaacs as World War Two hero Marshall Zhukov, and Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, underestimated as a clownish peasant by his colleagues but who would ultimately triumph over them all.
Many of the most absurd scenes in the film are historically accurate, or at least, mostly accurate.
Stalin was left to lay unattended on the floor for hour after his stroke, because even though the guards outside his room heard him fall to the ground they were too scared to violate his instructions to not enter the room.
Once discovered, the still living dictator lay for several more hours in a puddle of his own urine as terrified Politburo members debated over what to do next.
After the daily drunken evenings at Stalin's dacha outside Moscow, Khrushchev really did come home and dictate to his wife what jokes Stalin liked and disliked so he could review the notes in the morning when he was sober.
Molotov (played by Michael Palin) really did denounce his own wife when Stalin ordered his arrest and Beria really did release her after Stalin's death.
The opening scene in which Stalin wants a recording of a Moscow orchestra recital, inducing panic on the part of the producers really happened.
Laventri Beria was truly as loathsome as portrayed, and Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) as stupid.
The Death of Stalin has been banned in Putin's Russia.