In early-1953 Moscow, under the Great Terror's heavy cloak of state paranoia, the ever-watchful Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, collapses unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. Inevitably, when his body is discovered the following morning, a frenetic surge of raw panic spreads like a virus among the senior members of the Council of Ministers as they scramble to maintain order, weed out the competition, and, ultimately, take power. But in the middle of a gut-wrenching roller-coaster of incessant plotting, tireless machinations, and frail allegiances, absolutely no one is safe; not even the feared chief of the secret police, Lavrenti Beria. In the end, who will prevail after the death of Stalin?Written by
When the Politburo first discovers Stalin's comatose body the morning after his stroke and move him to his bed, they briefly allude to how they "got rid of the good doctors in Moscow" when discussing how to deal with the situation. This was a reference to the Doctors' Plot, an anti-Semitic campaign issued by Stalin which targeted various medical doctors of Jewish ancestry under the accusation of their conspiring to assassinate various Soviet leaders, that occurred between 1952 and 1953. See more »
Svetlana asks Beria to release Aleksei Kapler, her first love who is imprisoned in the gulag. Beria tells her that Kapler is dead. However, Kapler was released in 1953, soon after Stalin's death, and lived to 1979. There doesn't seem to be any reason for Beria to lie, since he is supposed to be ingratiating himself to Svetlana, and as the head of the NKVD he certainly would have known that Kapler was still alive. See more »
Black-and-white photographs of the main characters appear over the end credits, but various figures are airbrushed out, have their faces defaced, or have other people superimposed over them, as per Soviet photos of Trotsky and purge victims. See more »
This is not the film I was expecting. Knowing that it was both written and directed by the British Armando Iannucci who gave us the outrageous delights of "In The Loop", "The Thick of It" and Veep", I thought that I was going to encounter a full-blown, satirical comedy (and the trailer had confirmed this impression), but instead - while there are certainly plenty of laughs from a sharp script - this is an altogether darker work, full of foreboding, terror and casual slaughter, than I was anticipating. It is not just the tone that is off-kilter; the brilliant cast makes no attempt to effect a Russian accent but offers everything from a Yorkshire accent to an unashamedly American one.
Several of the characters (the dictator himself played by Adrian McLoughlin) and his eventual successor Khruschev (Steve Buscemi) are known to everyone, but others - like war hero Zhukov (Jason Isaacs) and spy chief Beria (Simon Russell Beale) - will be less-known and still others - such as Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Molotov (Michael Palin) - will be unfamiliar to many viewers, so you need to be something of an enthusiast for Soviet history to pick up on all the allusions. And real historians will rightly challenge some of the detail because there are some major errors (although these might rather be deliberate distortions to enhance the plot). Iannucci has moved from contemporary Whitehall and Washington to take us to Moscow in 1953 but, if we were expecting "Carry On Up The Kremlin", we have something much more gut-wrenching and all the more effective.
A few weeks before the release of this film, I was in Georgia and visited Gori, the town near where Stalin was born. The year after Khruschev denounced Stalin, a museum was opened in the town to venerate Stalin's leadership and essentially (and astonishingly) the messaging remains unchanged to this day. Oh, how I wish they could show this chilling movie at that museum.
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