Gustaw Holoubek: Leading actor in Polish theatre

His roles were epoch-making. Yet, whether he played Napoleon or Hamlet, Alceste in Molière's Misanthrope, or Woland in the television adaptation of Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, Gustaw Holoubek invariably remained himself.

The actor who became the living symbol of Polish theatre was born in Kraków, where his father, a Czech, had settled after the First World War. In 1939, aged 16, he fought in the September Campaign. Then – after a spell in a Nazi concentration camp – he joined a clandestine theatre group and entered the Kraków Dramatic Studio. He made his stage début in Stefan Flukowski's Odysseus Among the Phaecians; his first film role was in Wanda Jakubowska's hard-line revolutionary Soldier of Victory (1953).

Holoubek's first Warsaw appearance was in Ugo Betti's Corruption in the Palace of Justice (1958). His stage roles served to articulate his views on ethics and aesthetics; he could impart the inexpressible and mesmerise with silence.

When he played Gustaw-Konrad in Kazimierz Dejmek's staging of Forefathers' Eve, Adam Mickiewicz's great national romantic drama, in 1967, performance went beyond art, and made political history. The show was seen to be anti-government and anti-Russian, and its suppression triggered student demonstrations and numerous arrests, heralding the March events of 1968. He reprised the role 20 years later in the screen adaptation by Tadeusz Konwicki (Lawa, 1989).

Appointed director of the Dramatic Theatre in Warsaw (1971-82), and chairman of the Polish Actors' Union (1972-80), Holoubek entered politics when he was elected to the Polish parliament, the Sejm, in 1976. Renouncing his mandate in 1981 following martial law, he joined in the actors' boycott of state-run media. He performed in churches, and was often attacked in the Communist press. In 1989, he was elected to the Senate from the Solidarity list (until 1991), sat on President Lech Walesa's Council for Culture (1992-93), and was appointed professor at the Theatre Academy in Warsaw. Since 1997 he had been artistic director of the Ateneum theatre in Warsaw.

Holoubek clocked up more than 50 cinema and television roles in his time. He appeared in the cult films of Wojciech Has, playing Don Pedro Velasquez in The Saragossa Manuscript (1965), and Doctor Gotard in The Hour-Glass Sana torium (1973); and in the films of Tadeusz Konwicki: Salto (1967) and the bewilderingly oneiric How Far, How Near (1972).

Though he excelled in both fields, the stage was his natural habitat. The theatre, for Holoubek, was "a magic place", the realm of poetry and artistry, where reality was transformed, existential dilemmas played out, and the human condition laid bare.

Nina Taylor-Terlecka

Gustaw Holoubek , actor: born Kraków, Poland 21 April 1923; married first Danuta Kwiatkowska (one daughter), second Maria Wachowiak (one daughter), third 1973 Magdalena Zawadzka (one son); died Warsaw 6 March 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015