Armando Iannucci

Armando Iannucci

Date of birth: 30-11-1963
Half-Italian, half-Scottish Armando Iannucci abandoned his Oxford graduate studies in English to take up a career in broadcasting - and has since become one of the most important catalysts in bringing comedy to the screen.

He started his career in the early Nineties as a radio producer, working on The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Quote... Unquote, The News Quiz and On The Hour. This spoof news show transferred to TV as The Day Today and spawned Alan Partridge, whose award-winning shows on TV and radio Iannucci produced and co-wrote.

Iannucci has also fronted his own satirical shows, including The Saturday (or Friday) Night Armistice on BBC Two, his self-titled show on Channel 4 and his Radio 4 show Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive. He is also a regular on Radio 4 panel shows such as The News Quiz and The 99p Challenge and has worked on a number of Radio 3 shows, because of his passion for classical music.

More recently, he created the political satire The Thick Of It, about a beleaguered Minister trying to cope with the pressure imposed by his army of spin doctors, and the spoof clip show Time Trumpet.

In 2006, he was made Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford University, and was appointed as a BBC executive to develop new comedy shows.

He is also a columnist for The Observer, and a collection of his earlier newspaper work for the Telegraph and the Guardian was published in a 1997 collection, Facts And Fancies, which was also adapted for a Radio 4 series.

Iannucci has also directed a number of TV commercials, for clients incluting Nationwide.

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The Death Of Stalin

Film review by Steve Bennett

He’s tackled the political machinations in Westminster and Washington, so perhaps the Kremlin was the next logical step. 

But there is a much more sinister undercurrent in Armando Iannucci’s The Death Of Stalin, where the saying the wrong word could mean a death sentence, not just a career setback.  It raises the stakes, even if the transition between the grim horrors of the 1953 Soviet Union and joking about the panicky power plays of the Presidium isn’t always easy. In many ways, this seems like more than one film stuck together, flitting from farce to satire to slapstick to troubling drama.

Adrian McLoughlin plays  Stalin like a chillingly unpredictable gangster, possibly escaped from a Guy Ritchie movie, all high spirits as he and his inner circle indulge in debauchery worthy of the Bullingdon Club, but with a temper ready to erupt.

When his end comes, it’s hardly heroic, (historically accurate, too, like much of the script) as he’s left ‘lying in a puddle of indignity’ after a stroke, prompting a farcical pantomime as his comrades manhandle his hefty fame into bed.  All the good doctors have been killed or dispatched to gulag, so the leader lies in limbo before finally kicking the bucket.

The then jockeying for position starts. Aptly from the creator of Veep, Stalin’s deputy Georgy Malenk is vain, vacillating and ineffective, playing to Jeffrey Tambor’s strengths as a comic actor. 

The performances from this impressive cast are uniformly memorable, but again they often feel as if they are in different movies – a sense heightened by the decision to give them a range of English and American accents, in defiance of the cliché of cod Russian brogues. This is particularly effective in the case of Jason Isaacs, stealing every scene by playing Red Army commander Marshal Zhukov as a bluff, macho no-nonsense Yorkshireman, cutting through the blether of the political classes.

Malenk’s main rival is serpentine secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria, who revels in personally torturing and raping those his security forces imprison and made intense, creepy and sinister in the capable hands of Simon Russell Beale.

Also around the committee table are Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev, initially Stalin’s jester, who becomes increasingly scheming. Vyacheslav Molotov is prime Michael Palin, so mild-mannered and keen not to put his head above the parapet. And Paul Whitehouse’s weasel-like Foreign Minister Anastas Mikoyan could have come out of one of his sketch shows.

As you’d expect from Iannucci and fellow scriptwriters  David Schneider and Ian Martin, the dialogue flits between the brutal sweary putdowns and the carefully non-committal statements of the vague, very much like The Thick Of It. Conscious that a wrong word could mean death, the senior Soviets dance around their meaning.

Plenty of individual moments also shine. There’s an especially painfully funny scene – hilariously longer than it needs to be –  where Stalin’s drunk son Vasily (Rupert Friend) clumsily tries to wrestle the service revolver from a Red Army soldier as the Presidium look on in placid bemusement. And some of the insults are as creative as you’d hope.

Yet Death Of Stalin isn’t as funny as you might expect (most the best jokes are in the trailer). The grim seriousness of the scenario, and the need to both remind the audience this is an horrific regime and tell the story faithfully, puts a brake on the laughs, though it is always interesting in its portrayal of terrible turmoil.

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Published: 22 Oct 2017

In The Loop

Anticipation surrounding Armando Iannucci’s film…


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