22 October 2020

R.I.P. Irina Skobtseva (1927-2020)

On Sunday 20 October 2020, Russian actress Irina Skobtseva (1927) has died. She was a famous star of the Soviet cinema. She was the second wife of Sergei Bondarchuk and played Helen Kuragina in his epic film Voyna i mir/War and Peace (1966), a powerful adaptation of the eponymous masterpiece by Leo Tolstoy. Skobtseva was 93.

Irina Skobtseva (1927–2020)
Soviet postcard by Izdanie Bjuro Propagandy Sovetskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. A05978, 1968. The card was issued in 300,000 copies. Retail price: 8 Kop.

Miss Charm of the Cannes Film Festival

Irina Konstantinovna Skobtseva (Russian: Ирина Константиновна Скобцева) was born in 1927 in Tula, USSR (now Russia). Her father, Konstantin Skobtsev, was a meteorology scientist, her mother, Julia Nikolaevna, was an archive researcher.

After graduation, Irina entered the art department of Moscow State University. While studying, she played in the student theatre. After graduating in 1952, she entered the Moscow Art Theatre School, from which she graduated in 1955.

In the same year, Irina Skobtseva made her cinema debut as Desdemona in the Shakespearian drama Otello/Othello (Sergei Yutkevich, 1955) opposite Sergei Bondarchuk. The picture won the Best Director award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, and Skobtseva was awarded the title 'Miss Charm of the Cannes Film Festival'.

After Otello, Irina Skobtseva, who remained in the audience's view primarily as a romantic heroine, turned to character acting. She played Cyrus in the film adaptation of Leonid Leonov's play Obyknovennyy chelovek/The Ordinary Man (Aleksandr Stolbov, 1956) and Klavdia Nikolaevna in Nepovtorimaya vesna/Unrepeatable Spring (Aleksandr Stolper, 1957), starring Yevgeniya Kozyreva and Izolda Izvitskaya.

Irina Skobtseva (1927–2020)
Soviet multiview postcard by Izdanie Bjuro Propagandy Sojuza rabotnikov kinematografii SSSR, Moscow, no. 16380, 1960. Irina Skobtseva in scenes from Otello/Othello (Sergei Yutkevich, 1955), Obyknovennyy chelovek/The Ordinary Man (Aleksandr Stolbov, 1956), Ivan Franko (Timofei Levchuk, 1956), Nepovtorimaya vesna/Unrepeatable Spring (Aleksandr Stolper, 1957), Poyedinok/Duel (Vladimir Petrov, 1957), Annushka (Boris Barnet, 1959), and Seryozha/A Summer to Remember (Georgiy Daneliya, Igor Talankin, 1960).

The most expensive film ever made

In 1959, Irina Skobtseva married actor and director Sergei Bondarchuk who had been her partner in Otello/Othello. This laid the foundations for a series of joint works in the cinema.

Skobtseva shot to fame as Helen Kuragina in Bondarchuk's epic Voyna i mir/War and Peace (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1966). The eight-hour epic became the most expensive film ever made. The film was produced over a period of seven years, from 1961 to 1968, at an estimated cost of $100,000,000 (about one billion dollars adjusted for inflation in 2010).

Voyna i mir set several records, such as involving over three hundred professional actors from several countries. Tens of thousands of extras from the Red Army appeared in the filming of the 3rd two-hour-long episode about the historic Battle of Borodino against Napoleon's invasion. This made it the largest battle scene ever filmed.

Voyna i mir won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Skobtseva played in the films produced by Bondarchuk himself like Oni srazhalis za rodinu/They Fought for Their Country (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1975), Step/Steppe (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1977), and Boris Godunov (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1986).

She also played in films by other directors — Seryozha/Splendid Days (Georgiy Daneliya, Igor Talankin, 1960), Molchaniye doktora Ivensa/Silence of Doctor Evans (Budimir Metalnikov, 1973), Vybor tseli/Take Aim (Igor Talankin, 1975), Otets Sergiy/Father Sergius (Igor Talankin, 1978), and Barkhatnyy sezon/Velvet Season (Vladimir Pavlovich, 1979).

Skobtseva also performed roles in such films of Bondarchuk as Waterloo (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1970) with Rod Steiger and Orson Welles, Krasnye kolokola, film vtoroy - Ya videl rozhdenie novogo mira/Red Bells II (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1982) with Franco Nero, and Quiet Flows the Don (1992) with Rupert Everett - the last work of Sergei Bondarchuk.

Irina Skobtseva and Sergey Bondarchuk in Voyna i mir (1966)
Soviet postcard by Izdanie Bjuro Propagandy Sovetskogo Kinoiskusstva, no. A 08347, 1969. Photo: Irina Skobtseva and Sergey Bondarchuk in Voyna i mir/War and Peace (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1966). This postcard was printed in an edition of 500.000 cards. Retail price: 6 Kop.

Lyudmila Savelyeva, Irina Skobzeva, Vasili Lanovoiy in War and Peace, 1967
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin no. 2744, 1966. Retail price was 0,20 MDN. Photo: publicity still for Voyna i mir/War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1965-1967) with Lyudmila Savelyeva (Natacha Rostova), Irina Skobtseva (Hélène Kuragin), Vasili Lanovoy (Anatol Kuragin).

People's Artist of the RSFSR

Irina Skobtseva appeared as a comedic actress in the films of Georgiy Daneliya, such as Ya shagayu po Moskve/Walking the Streets of Moscow (1963), Tridtsat tri/Thirty-Three (1965), and Sovsem propashchiy/Hopelessly Lost (1973).

One of her best comedy roles is Lidia Sergeevna in the film Eldar Ryazanov's Zigzag udachi/Zigzag of Success (1969).

In the 1980s, Irina Skobtseva semi-retired, but she made some appearances in films and on television since. The actress played major roles in the films Zagadochnyy naslednik/The Mysterious Heir (Tamara Lisitsian, 1987), Besy/The Possessed (Dmitri Talankin, Igor Talankin, 1992), and Zorka venera/Zorka Venus (Margarita Kasymova, 2000).

On TV, Skobtseva starred in the series Zhenskaya logika/The Heirs (Eldor Urazbaev, 2001; Viktor Buturlin, 2005), and Belaya gvardiya/The White Guard (2012).

Later she appeared in the family film Tayna tyomnoy komnaty/The Secret of the Dark Room (Olga Belyaeva, 2014). Her final film role was in the family film Opasnye kanikuly/A dangerous vacation (Olga Belyaeva, 2016).

Since 1957, Skobtseva was an actress of the National Film Actors' Theatre, and since 1971, she taught acting, was an assistant professor of the department of acting at VGIK, and together with Sergei Bondarchuk, she led an acting studio. Irina Skobtseva received the title People's Artist of the RSFSR in 1974. In 1997, she was awarded the Order of Friendship.

Irina Skobtseva passed away in Moscow, Russia. With Sergei Bondarchuk, she had a daughter, actress Yelena Bondarchuk, and a son, Fyodor Bondarchuk, a film director, actor and producer, and chairman of the board of directors of Lenfilm.

Irina Skobtseva
Russian multiview postcard by FK, Rostov on Don, Engels, no. 54. The card was issued in 100,000 copies. Pictures from Otello/Othello (Sergei Yutkevich, 1955), Obyknovennyy chelovek/The Ordinary Man (Aleksandr Stolbov, 1956), Annushka (Boris Barnet, 1959), and Ivan Franko (Timofei Levchuk, 1956).

My Favourite Artists
Russian postcard, series no. 38. Caption: My favourite artists. Film stars pictured are amongst others Sergei Bondarchuk, Aleksey Batalov, Izolda Izvitskaya, Irina Skobtseva, and Vyacheslav Tikhonov.

Sources: Steve Shelokhonov (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

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