“I know the drill: smile, shake hands, try not to say ‘c**t’.” No, not Prince Philip backstage at the Royal Variety Performance, but Vasily (Rupert Friend), the alcoholic son of the Del Boy-sounding Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), before mourners flocked past the great leader’s body which lay in state after being discovered in a state, paralysed in a “puddle of indignity” aka pool of piss, following a night of heavy drinking and light frivolity which culminated in the viewing of a Western.
The king is dead, long live the king. But who should step into Uncle Joe’s shoes? The good, the bad or the ugly? The good being Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the droll and indecisive deputy who is more concerned with his hair than the heir, the former of which is described as “did Coco Chanel take a shit on your head?” The bad being Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), a duplicitous member of the inner circle who bags more titles than Pooh-Bah, The Lord High Everything, in The Mikado. And the ugly being Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), a wily Old Ruskie played with a New York accent whose strategy as self-appointed peacemaker is to “fuck over anyone who gets in my way”.
Cue a volley of backstabbing, finger jabbing and loose gabbing as the gleesome threesome wrestle for power and in so doing ride roughshod over anyone who stands in their way, including Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs and Paul Whitehouse as an equally corrupt chorus of movers and shakers. “Should we investigate?” asks a cautious soldier. “Should you shut the fuck up before you get us both killed?” his colleague’s decisive reply.
With Armando Iannucci in the director’s chair and The Thick Of It’s Ian Martin joining him and two others in penning the screenplay, which is based on a French comic strip of the same name, as you can imagine wordplay and farce is very much to the fore. Think the cast of Dad’s Army with a satirical rocket up their “they don’t like it up ’em” jacksies. All of whom deliver impeccable performances, particularly Jeffrey Tambor whose hangdog face provokes smiles and titters without so much as a word from the dialogue-heavy screenplay being spoken.
In fact, the few waves of belly laughs which emerge from a constant swell of wit are provoked by visual rather than verbal set-pieces. The voting and funeral scenes two standouts. As Malenkov says, “I have no idea what is going on.” But it’s a rapid-fire hoot from beginning to end.
Video courtesy of: Entertainment One UK