Flm director Armando Iannucci (centre) on the set of his new film The Death of Stalin.

The Death of Stalin begins with, an, ahem, arresting moment. A concert for radio is just winding up in Moscow, when the broadcast producers receive a message: Secretary-General Stalin was listening, and loved the music so much, that he would like a copy of the recording. Panic ensues, because the concert was not recorded. So, the harried producers lock the door, hustle the audience back to their seats, and play the whole concert one more time. They have to bribe the pianist, the great Maria Yudina, with 20,000 roubles, a fortune. The record is in Stalin’s hands the next day -- complete with a note denouncing Stalin, written by Yudina, that she has pushed into the record’s sleeve -- when he is felled by a cerebral haemorrhage, and falls to the floor, dying some hours later.

The concert happened, but not like that. It was in 1944, nine years before Stalin’s death, while the Great Patriotic War against Fascism was still being fought. Yudina was a favoured artist, given great leeway. She wore an orthodox crucifix necklace at concerts, and recited banned poems. The 20,000 roubles came not from Radio Moscow, but from Stalin -- he ordered it sent to her, after receiving the record. She sent him a "thank you" note saying that, to atone for his crimes against the Russian people, she would donate it to her church. Stalin later read the letter out to the Central Committee, and took no action against her.