Ralph Fiennes plays it safe with this elegant but sanitised take on the early years of ballet firebrand Rudolf Nureyev.
Film review by Phil de Semlyen
Aside from being one of the greatest dancers in ballet history, Rudolf Nureyev was a bit of a livewire. He was mates with Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury, broke the jaw of a fellow dancer and lobbed a chair at film director Franco Zeffirelli. He was once called ‘an artist, an animal and a cunt’ by his own choreographer.
Maybe director Ralph Fiennes is saving those juicy chapters of ‘Rudolf Nureyev: The Life’, the biography ‘The White Crow’ is adapted from, for an explosive sequel. With this restrained biopic, he and screenwriter David Hare have gone with the drier origin story, from his rural boyhood (his family’s poverty double-underlined by a bleached-out colour palette) to Soviet poster boy to Cold War defector in 1961.
The film dots between those three timelines, lingering longest in the Paris of the early ’60s where Nureyev first made his name as a touring dancer. In concert, they provide some neat psychological insights into the man. His birth on the Trans-Siberian Railway, for instance, parlays into an endearing citywide quest to find an expensive toy train set. Here was a man who effectively wanted to buy back his own childhood.
It’s elegantly shot, the ballet scenes soar and dancer Oleg Ivenko is a real find in his acting debut, bringing a combustible mix of curiosity, ego and boyish petulance to the role. But it lacks the sinewy power of the man himself and Bohemian Rhapsodies his sexual appetites to the point where you’d be hard-pressed to tell that he was gay. A bit less grace and a bit more grunt would have been welcome.
Cast and crew