Obituary: Innokenti Smoktunovsky

Innokenti Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky, actor: born Tatianovka, Tomsk Oblast, Siberia 28 March 1925; married (one son, one daughter); died Moscow 3 August 1994.

INNOKENTI Smoktunovsky was a great actor, both on stage and in the cinema; he was a national figure in Russia and the former Soviet Union for the past 30 years and won an international reputation for his unforgettable performance in the title-role of Grigory Kozintsev's film version of Hamlet (1964).

Smoktunovsky was born the son of a worker in the tiny village of Tatianovka, in Tomsk Oblast, Siberia. He grew up in the industrial city of Krasnoyarsk. At the age of 17, he was mobilised into the army, and sent to the front straight from the infantry school in Kiev. It was 1943, and the Germans were being driven back towards the borders of the Soviet Union. Smoktunovksy was taken prisoner but escaped and joined a local partisan group with which he ended the war in Berlin.

For one year Smoktunovsky worked in Yenisei, the river port for Krasnoyarsk, while studying acting at the studio attached to the Pushkin theatre in Krasnoyarsk. He then performed in various theatres in the far north, including Norilsk, the coldest city in the world and capital of the Gulag empire of Soviet prison camps in the 1930s and post-war years. He worked all over the country from Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, to Moscow, and from 1957 to 1960 appeared at the Gorky Drama Bolshoi Theatre in Leningrad. He won initial celebrity for his performance in the role of Prince Myshkin in a production of The Idiot, after Dostoevsky.

At this point Smoktunovsky was discovered by the Russian film industry. He achieved a breakthrough in 1960, when he appeared opposite the great star Tatiana Samoilova in The Unposted Letter, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. It was a sensational film because of the remarkable photography of the celebrated cameraman Sergei Urusevsky. The following year he appeared in Nine Days in One Year, directed by Mikhail Romm, a fresh modern film about the relationship between a man and a woman, which was liked by both the critics and the public.

The film - whose production was made possible so soon after Stalin's death, and after a long period of stagnation in Russian films, because it coincided with Nikita Khrushchev's so-called 'thaw' - attracted large audiences to Moscow cinemas and sparked heated discussion in the Soviet press. Over the succeeding 30 years Smoktunovsky played in 80 feature and television films.

Shortly after the Russian release of Hamlet, Kozintsev, accompanied by Smoktunovsky, showed the film at the British Film Institute, in London, during a well-received season of Soviet films, and in 1965 it received the Lenin Prize. Smoktunovsky made two highly successful film appearances in 1970 - as Porfiri Petrovich in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, directed by Lev Kulidzhanov, and in the name part of Igor Talankin's Tchaikovsky. His partner in the latter was the prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who played Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky's correspondent and patroness. The score was provided by Plisetskaya's composer husband Roman Shchedrin. Tchaikovsky was shown at the San Sebastian Film Festival in the same year and received a prize.

Smoktunovsky played the title- role in the film Uncle Vanya (1971), directed by Andron Mikhalkov- Konchalovsky, and worked with Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky again in 1975 in A Lovers' Romance. But he never left the theatre. His most successful part was that of Tsar Fedor in the 1973 production of Tsar Fedor Ioannovich at the Maly Theatre, Moscow. From 1976 Smoktunovsky worked at MKHAT - the Moscow Art Theatre, the best theatre in the


Several books on Smoktunovsky have been published, in Russia, in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. In 1973 the actor- director Sergei Bondarchuk wrote a substantial article in the important monthly magazine Isskustvo Kino about filming on location and playing Doctor Astrov opposite Smoktunovsky in Uncle Vanya; the article was later republished as a small book.

In the 1970s and 1980s Smoktunovsky appeared frequently on television, often relating stories of how, in the years after the Second World War, he was turned down by virtually every theatre he approached for work because of his 'lack of talent'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...