The White Crow is a 2018 British film written by David Hare and directed by Ralph Fiennes starring Oleg Ivenko as the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. It is inspired by the book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh.

This specialised movie deals not so much with the glittering career of its subject Rudolf Nureyev, but focuses on his defection to the West in 1961, and deals with his youth and his training as a ballet dancer. It provides some fascinating insights into his character as the story unfolds, and we get to meet a very ambitious young dancer who would go on to become the original “Lord of the Dance.”

Nureyev was born on a train in Siberia to a Tatar Muslim family. He started his career a the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg and the film tells the story of his arrival there and the teaching relationship with Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin who took him into his home and whose wife took him into her bed.  As the first artist to defect to the West during the Cold War, his case created an international sensation.

Nureyev was famously bisexual, but this aspect is skimmed over by the movie and we never get to understand his sexuality. Instead, the film focuses on his strife to succeed and make a name for himself. Oleg Ivenko as Nureyev gives us a small glimpse into the man behind the legend, and it was clever casting to put a ballet dancer in the role. While he most certainly embodies the dancer, a lack of acting depth sees him struggling with the more nuanced moments in the script. He does get the Nureyev “determined look” right and we get glimpses of his temper. And of course, he very much looks the part, which helps. Director Ralph Fiennes also plays Nureyev’s teacher Pushkin (all in Russian, note!) with grace and style, although the emotional depths of their relationship are also skimmed over, leaving one feeling slightly dissatisfied.

As a dance pic, it has a few moments, but one would have liked to see more. We understand that Nureyev was an absolute sensation to see perform on stage, yet we barely get to see any of that. As a biopic it has an interesting angle into the story, but in the end it never quite takes off. It seems as if the film was made for those who already know Nureyev and his defection story, and who are au fait with his prowess as a dancer. It would be a harder watch for a young person who has never heard of Nureyev, as the story takes time to develop and the way in which it tells its story is somewhat messy.

I would most certainly recommend this film to die-hard balletomanes, while it should also serve as an introduction to a new audience. I left the theatre feeling that I should go on YouTube and watch Nureyev in action to get the full appreciation of what he was capable of.

The White Crow opens in cinemas on 14 June. You can watch the trailer here.