Director Armando Iannucci insisted on not having the characters speak with Russian accents, for two reasons: he thought it would take audiences out of the film, and he did not want the actors to worry about their accent when improvising. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 for the film's U.K. release, Iannucci stated that Russian journalists who had seen it praised the decision.
In one scene, Beria locks a young woman in a cell and then gives her a bunch of flowers upon release. Beria was a notorious sexual predator, sometimes driven around Moscow in search of victims. After Beria had finished with his victims, they were routinely offered a bunch of flowers. To accept was to imply that whatever had happened was consensual. To refuse meant arrest and disappearance.
The movie was banned in Russia on January 23, 2018, two days before it was due to be released. The Cultural Ministry stated, "The distribution certificate for the film The Death of Stalin has been withdrawn." One member of the Culture Ministry's advisory board was quoted as saying, "The film desecrates our historical symbols -- the Soviet hymn, orders and medals, and Marshal Zhukov is portrayed as an idiot," and added that the film's release in advance of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad (February 2nd), would be "an affront to Russia's World War II veterans."
The film alludes to the 1950 plane crash in Sverdlovsk that killed most of the Soviet ice hockey team, which happened three years before Stalin's death. It is true that Vasili Stalin, the team's patron, feared his father's reaction and tried to recruit a new team at extremely short notice.
The opening story in the concert hall is true, although it happened a few years before Stalin's death. In reality they had to use three conductors because the second one was drunk, but the director felt that was too unbelievable.
When Stalin collapses from a stroke, one guard, hearing his collapse from outside, asks if they should investigate. The other guard replies that he should shut up before Stalin kills both of them for entering without permission. Stalin left explicit orders not to disturb him while he was sleeping under any circumstances, with disobedience punishable by death. It's one reason why no one tried to investigate when he didn't wake up at his usual time.
When Nikita Khrushchev comforts Svetlana Stalin, she buries her head in her hands and says "I'd might as well just shoot myself like mother." On November 9, 1932, Svetlana's mother, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, had a public spat with her husband, Josef Stalin, during a dinner party over the effects of the government's collectivization program on various peasants in the USSR. She went up to the bedroom and shot herself.
People being erased from the pictures in the end credits of the movie refers to the widespread visual censorship practice in the USSR when the Soviet government was erasing some purged figures from Soviet history by altering their images or deleting them from the pictures all together.
The cast members use their own native accents throughout the movie, resulting in a wide variety of American and British accents. The Soviet Union was immense, with many geographically isolated regions, so the Russian language has hundreds of different accents. Many of the real characters came from vastly different parts of the country, so they probably sounded as diverse as depicted in the movie. Stalin talks with what sounds like an English working-class accent. In real life, Stalin was born in the former Soviet state of Georgia. He learned Russian when he was eight or nine, and spoke Russian with a heavy Georgian accent for the rest of his life. Georgia was known for farming, so Stalin's Russian probably sounded quite rustic to most Russians.
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.
Georgy Malenkov's amphibology "No(,) Problem" is possibly a nod to famous Russian winged word, which, according to the position of full stop in the sentence, or based on the intonation of the speaker, can be understood either like "Pardon. Impossible to be executed." or "Pardon impossible. To be executed."
The film was screened in the Platform section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and received critical acclaim. It caused controversy in Russia and many other former members of the Soviet Union, and was banned in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.
Another film about the Soviet Union, Testimony (1987), briefly enacts the same historical event that begins this film (the ailing Stalin's aides desperately trying to get a recording of some orchestral music he has heard, although the original conductor has fainted).
Despite the fact that the movie takes completely in Russia all the signs and writing in the movie is in English using Latin letters, not Cyrillic letters. A few exceptions can be seen on the scenes for Stalin's funeral where several Latin letters are replaced with Cyrillic letters, like on the movie's cover, where the letter "A" in "Stalin" is replaced with the Cyrillic letter "D", or in the line "Stalin lives forever" on the memorial wreath the letters V and E were replaced by the Cyrillic letters "TS" and the backwards version of the letter "EA".
Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are the only members of the Eurasian Economic Union. In Armenia, the film premiered in two theaters in Yerevan on January 25, 2018. In Kazakhstan, the film was screened only in the Clique festival.
Stalins great grandson Jakov Dshugashvilli gave an interview to the radio station "Govorit Moskva", where he said the didn't watch the movie but for him it was enough to know that a comedy named "The Death of Stalin" exists. About the criticism online he said "Criticism is pointless. What is the point of criticizing those inhumans? How can it be human when the death of a person is source for laugh?" However he also said "The reason why this movie exists is not the deeds of the writers, those inhumans, but of us. .... We refused the fairness that was represented by Stalin, who tried to force people to live by fairness and now we for eating and relaxing". He doubts that such a movie would exist about Kim Il Song.
At the beginning film, Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) recounts a story to Molotov (Michael Palin) and Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). Malenkov, unable to follow, asks Khrushchev to clarify part of the story. Malenkov is instead criticized by Molotov for interrupting a story on account of his inability to understand the story. Earlier in his career, Steve Buscemi played a similarly oblivious character in "The Big Lebowski", another comedy, where Buscemi is repeatedly berated by a friend for stalling discussions on account of his inability to follow through.
Nikita Khrushchevs son Sergey Khrushchev gave an interview to the Russian News Agency Tass, where he said that the movie "a distorted and humiliated representation of the past" and is thankful to the minister of culture of the Russian Federation that he forbids the release of the movie in Russia. To him it is a "lampoon to the whole country and the government of that time".
Molotov's wife Polina's arrest and release is more or less consistent with the real events. Polina was arrested in 1949 on bogus charges and sentenced to 5 years of hard labor and got her freedom only after the death of Stalin. Molotov was forced to divorce her by Stalin during that time. She was used as a tool by Beria as depicted in the movie to secure Molotov's loyalty. They got remarried and lived together until her death in 1970. Even though their relationship seems sincere and lovely, Molotov never blamed Stalin or criticized him for the purges that led to the hardships his wife faced.
Karl Johnson, who played one of the doctors called in to examine Stalin after his death, played a similar role in The Illusionist (2006). In that film, he also played a doctor called in to examine the body of a "deceased" public figure, Sophie, Duchess von Teschen.