THE MOST TELLING MOMENT in Armando Iannucci’s film “The Death of Stalin” occurs as the dictator’s body is laying in state and the people – some of whom have traveled a great distance – throng past the bier. They are shocked and reverential, the uncertainty in their faces and manner an indication of the ideological lockstep in which they’ve been trained to march. Clearly, the cult of Stalin was wildly successful in its oppressive zeal.
It is 1953, and Stalin’s Central Committee must name his successor. These men are the supposed loyalists, the ones who endure too many late nights watching John Wayne movies with their leader, but who also deal in fear – both in its administration (Simon Russell Beale, as the loathsome Beria, casually directing family executions) and as its target (Molotov brings a chew toy to a meeting in a car so that his dog will bark over the conversation).