“I’m the peacemaker and I’ll fuck over anyone who gets in my way.”
Spoken by the future leader of the Soviet Union, played by Steve Buscemi and delivered in a thick Brooklyn accent, this line encapsulates the chaos, terror and comedy of Armando Iannucci’s latest offering, ‘The Death of Stalin’.
The creator of Veep and The Thick Of It has broken with tradition to tackle one of the darkest periods in modern history - the passing of the Soviet Union’s second leader and the brutal power struggle that followed.
The film, released on DVD this week, prompted the superpower’s successor to ban it with Russian officials citing it as a “western plot to destabilise Russia by causing rifts in society”.
The irony is not lost on Iannucci.
“I feel sad that something you’ve put a lot of work into cannot be shown. because you think really? Still? Today? That fear of anything that makes fun of authority,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“And it never works - someone showed me a Moscow Times report the other day that said 60 percent of people in Russia wants to see the film because it got banned.”
The film is based on the French graphic novel ‘La mort de Staline’, a departure for Iannucci who has always “generated my own stuff”.
“The whole thing took me by surprise, I knew I was coming to the end of Veep and I was looking at doing a fictional dictator but in the present day because I was looking at the whole idea of authority figures and totalitarianism and then this book was sent to me by the producers,” he says.
“The moment I read it I realised it was all the themes I wanted to talk about and it’s true.”
Whilst the death and ensuing power struggle of a totalitarian responsible for the deaths of up to 25 million people doesn’t immediately jump out as an obvious subject for a comedy, it does work.
“The comedy came from the terror. Terror and anxiety, it’s a different type of comedy,” says Iannucci.
“When we were researching the film we found out people circulated joke books about Stalin and Beria, it was almost as if it was there way of showing they hadn’t been defeated. And you could be shot if you had one on your possession.
“There is no other species as far as I know that tells jokes, that makes each other laugh and I don’t think making a certain subject the subject of a comedy actually belittles that.
“The best comedies are the stuff that seems true. The more true incidents we found the funnier the film became.”
Filming took place in the summer of 2016 before the presidency of Donald Trump and when the often-shambolic Brexit negotiations were still in their infancy.
So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the time since has been rich pickings for comedy writer but according to Iannucci, it’s exactly the opposite.
“I don’t think one can ignore the news. But it just seems so bizarre and unreal. I’m glad I’d don’t have to make Veep at the moment because any fictional version of what’s in Washington is ever going to be as absurd as [real life].
“Theresa May coughing during her speech and the letters falling off behind her - that would be a rejected speech from The Thick Of It.”
And inevitably, because it’s real-life, it’s far harder to laugh at.
“When people ask if I would do a Brexit version I think no because it’s all playing out in front of us. And I find it difficult in the end to maintain my sense of humour about it.
“I was listening to Trump speaking at the CPAC rally and he reads this poem called The Snake and it’s about immigration and he’s comparing immigrants to snakes that come and bite you and poison you.
“And I thought really that’s not a million miles from calling the Jews vermin and rats. I just find it unsettling.”
Iannucci says he still holds out hope for the UK post-Brexit but he describes our politicians as if they’re... well, writing the script of a fictional comedy.
“They just don’t seem to have any imaginative grasp of the enormity of what they’re doing and therefore are incapable of coming up with any sort of imaginative solution.
“They’re still locked in this idea that just by saying something it’ll happen. So saying it will all be perfect and everyone will concede to our demands, and somehow believing that’s the magic of negotiation.”
The Death Of Stalin is now available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.