Ralph Fiennes once again turns his hand to direction with The White Crow, a dramatisation of Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West. Widely regarded as the greatest male ballet dancer of his generation, Nureyev’s defection in 1961 at the height of Cold War tensions famously created an international media storm at the time. Ripe for a film adaptation, Fiennes brings the story to life onscreen, although the results are pretty mixed.
Opening ominously at the end of the story and dovetailing back on itself in a bid to draw the audience in and create some mystery, The White Crow follows Rudolf from his early childhood – cold, uninviting and poverty-stricken – to his early days as a member of the Mariinsky Ballet. All of this is intercut with Rudolf and the Mariinsky Ballet’s ill-fated performances in Paris, which is where much of the core drama is to be found.
Fiennes and newcomer Oleg Ivenko accomplish plenty early on, displaying Rudolf’s prowess and skill on the stage with flair and style, leaving little doubt in the audience’s mind of the dancer’s success. The choreography is stunning, even to those who couldn’t care less for the art form. However, despite these kinetic and graceful interludes, the film is incredibly slow and meandering for the most part, the flashbacks to life pre-Paris long and talky, whilst countless scenes of Nureyev simply wandering the streets of the French capital and sightseeing feel like nothing more than padding.
It would help matters were the main protagonist someone worth spending time with. Unfortunately Nureyev is portrayed here as utterly loathsome – an arrogant, self-important performer with illusions of grandeur and a god complex unrivalled by anyone else, it’s difficult to find any ounce of sympathy for the man. Ivenko is excellent in the part, but the script offers little opportunity for him to display an iota of charisma or charm.
Soaked in Cold War paranoia, with the presence of the KGB ever looming over proceedings, there is some sadness to be had in Nureyev’s hubris though. Depicted in the final half an hour, the tension ratchets up considerably as Nureyev’s overconfidence and arrogance gives way to unbridled panic and fear. The ensuring conflict over his deportation and defection is dynamite drama which lends the film some much needed momentum, with Fiennes using his skill as a storyteller to create a claustrophobic and inescapable aesthetic throughout the final act.
It’s this finale that ultimately saves The White Crow from mediocrity. Regardless though, this slow, heavily-padded drama lacks a likeable lead character with which to empathise with, thus rendering much of the film hollow and insubstantial. There are flashes of excellent though, with the graceful dance scenes lending the film an elegancy completely in keeping with its subject’s mastery of the dance.
Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Chulpan Khamatova Director: Ralph Fiennes Writer: David Hare Certificate: 12A Duration: 127 mins Released by: Studiocanal Release date: 22nd March 2019