Nonna Mordyukova: Star of 'The Commissar', cause célèbre of glasnost cinema

Over fifty years, Nonna Mordyukova was one of the Soviet Union's most popular actresses, usually epitomising women facing difficult situations, but equally able to play comedy. She was recognised with state prizes, but also starred in the greatest cause célèbre of glasnost cinema.

Alexander Askoldov wrote Kommissar (The Commissar, 1967) specially for Mordyukova, and as a Red Army officer who falls pregnant and is billeted with a Jewish family, she brilliantly balances the character's militaristic strength and the vulnerability of a mother-to-be. However, rising Soviet anti-Semitism coincided with the Six-Day War and, when the director refused to remove Mordyukova's horrific premonition of the Holocaust, the film was canned. Twenty years later, glasnost's "unshelving" committee still refused to release it, until Askoldov shamed it into action. The film was internationally hailed and Mordyu-kova won several awards (none in her homeland), although it remains Askoldov's only film.

Mordyukova, named Noyabrina after the month of her, and the Soviet state's, birth, was the eldest child in the large family of a Donetsk collective farm chairwoman. "Nonna" entered Moscow's state film school in 1946, ironically starring in a dramatisation of Alexander Fadeyev's novel Molodiya gvardiya ("The Young Guard"), about a group of teenage partisans in Donetsk. In 1948 the director Sergei Gerasimov filmed the story, with many of the students, including Mordyukova, reprising their roles to win Stalin Prizes for their débuts. That year she married her co-star Vyacheslav Tikhonov and had a son, Vladimir, who later became a drug addict and died.

Mordyukova again drew on her childhood for Vozvrashchenie Vasiliya Bortnikova ("The Return of Vasili Bortnikov", 1952), an idealised view of a collective farm. Though the role was small, it gave her a chance to work with the old master Vsevolod Pudovkin.

In 1960 Budimir Metalnikov wrote Prostaya istoriya ("A Simple Story") for her. Again, her childhood was germane, as the story concerned a young widow who is suddenly made head of an under-performing collective farm. Mordyukova's transformation from grief, through to a hard-won victory, was one of her best performances. Two years later, in Predsedatel ("The Chairman"), she crossed the political border, and was equally compelling, to play the boorish wife of a non-collective farmer who has a child by a Nazi.

But Mordyukova was also at home in comedy, usually broad, as an officious caretaker in the massively popular slapstick-satire Brilliantova ruka ("Diamond Arm", 1968), or the tedious hausfrau in Zhenitba Balzaminova ("Balzaminov's Wedding", 1965).

With her solid, no-nonsense appearance, Mordyukova's "Soviet Everywoman" persona became so well loved that, in Rodnya ("Kinfolk", 1981), the director Nikita Mikhalkov knew she would win sympathy for the slightly pitiable provincial matriarch.

After Mama (1999), the story of a mother reuniting her children after a failed attempt to escape the Soviet Union, Mordyukova retired to avoid typecasting. Despite her successes (in 1992 Vladimir Putin awarded her the Order for Service to the Fatherland), it was only after complaints of poverty that she was given an apartment in Moscow. Nevertheless, summing up her outlook and those of many of her characters, her memoirs were entitled Ne plach, kazachka ("Don't Cry, Cossack Woman").

John Riley

Noyabrina Viktorovna Mordyukova, actress: born Konstantinovskaya, Soviet Union 25 November 1925; married 1948 Vyacheslav Tikhonov (one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1963); died Moscow 6 July 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
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
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
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: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

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, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
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?