Ivan Denisovich Shukhov has been sentenced to a camp in the Soviet gulag system. He was accused of becoming a spy after being captured briefly by the Germans as a prisoner of war during World War II. He is innocent, but is sentenced to ten years in a forced labor camp. The day begins with Shukhov waking up sick. For waking late, he is forced to clean the guardhouse, but this is a comparatively minor punishment. When Shukhov is finally able to leave the guardhouse, he goes to the dispensary to report his illness. It is relatively late in the morning by this time, however, so the orderly is unable to exempt any more workers and Shukhov must work. Based on the life of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
- Ivan Denisonvich (Tom Courtenay) is a Russian World War II hero captured by the Germans. Upon his return to Russia after the war, and during the Stalinist regime, he is sentenced to 10 years at hard labor in Siberia for being captured. The film shows one day in his life in the prison camp.