The White Crow (4 stars)

The White Crow

Ralph Fiennes takes the helm of an impressive biopic focusing on legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev, the world's first pop icon ballet star, defected from the Soviet Union at Paris's Le Bourget airport in 1961. History has it that the dancer threatened suicide if he was not allowed to remain in the west. In The White Crow the moment is less melodramatic but, still, palpably real. This is tense, high-wire stuff in the hands of Ralph Fiennes (his third time in the director's chair following Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman) and scriptwriter David Hare.

Based on 2007's book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh, the film is subtle, detailed and delves into his work and sex-life, whilst flashing back to the dancer's beginnings – he was born on a Trans-Siberian train to a Tatar Muslim family. A debut role for Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko, The White Crow is about a man determined to go past what was thought possible. Sexuality is part of it. Seamlessly seduced by the wife (Chulpan Khamatova) of his teacher Pushkin (Fiennes, a Russian speaker – who knew?), Nureyev sleeps with pretty much anyone he pleases, remaining unaffected. Befriending Clara (Adèle Exarchopoulos), the heartbroken girlfriend of French cultural minister André Malraux's son turns out to be pivotal.

The White Crow isn't preachy or corrective. Like Bohemian Rhapsody, it tells of a superstar via a lesser vessel and yet even being reminded of Nureyev's genius is a thrill. With flared nostrils and a simmering temperament, Ivenko gives a performance that's both intensely physical and controlled – and, boy, can he dance. The drama is unimaginable without him. Sumptuously filmed by Mike Eley, with redolent period design by Anne Seibel and deft editing by Barney Pilling, this is an essential take on ballet's most kaleidoscopic talent. Fiennes' light touch textures this biopic into something exciting, genuine and naturally sexy; it's a film that stays en pointe for its entirety.

General release from Fri 22 Mar.

The White Crow

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • UK / France
  • 2h 2min
  • Directed by: Ralph Fiennes
  • Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann

The story of Rudolf Nureyev (Ivenko), delving into his work and sex life and how he defected from the Soviet Union in 1961. Ukrainian dancer Ivenko gives an intensely physical performance and Fiennes’ light touch as a director makes it something exciting, genuine and naturally sexy.