Czech film legend Svatopluk Benes dies at age 89

Svatopluk Benes

Svatopluk Benes, one of the country's leading actors in the interwar years of the First Republic, has died at the age of 89. He was one of the last remaining legends of the silver screen in the brief time when Czech cinematography enjoyed a period of Hollywood glamour.

And Svatopluk Benes was at the centre of it all - almost always in the role of a rich, gallant young lover partnered by the likes of Adina Mandlova, Lida Barova and Natasa Gollova - the last Czech actresses who wore silk and powder, drank champagne and danced the night away, before the communist regime replaced them with working-girl role-models. This generation of actors was adored from a distance by the masses and Svatopluk Benes retained that respect throughout his life. One of his close friends in the acting business Jirina Bohdalova says he was a gentleman such as are not born in this day and age.

Svatopluk Benes
"He was a very noble man, extremely good-looking, always perfectly dressed with impeccable manners. He had what you would call breeding and now that he has gone it is as if the last reminder of the years of the First Republic have gone with him. "

Svatopluk Benes's good looks got him his first role in Music of the Heart at the age of 21; within the next decade he appeared in around twenty romantic movies, always alongside the country's star actresses. In his later years Benes recalled that this hadn't been his ambition at all.

"I desperately wanted to be a comic. I studied acting in order to be a comic like Jindrich Plachta, whom I admired immensely. And although I hoped I would get comic roles one day - that I would 'work my way to them' so to speak - I never did."

He stopped playing the aristocrat lover when the communists came to power but there were other roles which he performed equally well, among them the role of lieutenant-colonel in the 1956 adaptation of the Good Soldier Svejk. Although he never got a major comic role, he did appear in comedies such as "I killed Einstein, gentlemen" or "Tomorrow I'll get up and burn myself with the tea".

Svatopluk Benes,  photo: CTK
Although Svatopluk Benes remained active up until 1990 both in film and theatre productions, he had been bedridden in the last four years, attended by his wife Bozena, with whom he spent close to half a century, and their two children. When she announced the news of his death to the press his wife said he had been happy to go - "he had too many friends on the other side whom he was eager to see."