First sighting of The White Crow, Ralph Fiennes’ new film about Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West

David Mead

The first images have been released from the set of Ralph Fiennes’ The White Crow. Written by twice Academy Award nominated David Hare (The Hours, The Reader), and based on the book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh, the film tells of Nureyev’s dramatic defection to the West; the most cultural and politically charged chapter of his life.

The film has been shooting for two weeks in Paris and St Petersburg at authentic locations from the life of the dancer/choreographer including Sainte-Chapelle, the royal chapel within the medieval Palais de la Cité; the Louvre; and the Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera; and the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. In Russia, The White Crow is the first film to be allowed access to the State Hermitage Museum since Russian director Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002). Filming will continue in Croatia and Serbia until late October.

Nureyev is being played by actor and dancer Oleg Ivenko, a soloist with M. Jalil Tatar State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. In an interview with, Ivenko says, “I have never thought that I would ever be invited to participate in such a project. What is happening around is like a dream. I feel a great responsibility when such a person as Ralph Fiennes is next to you.”

Director Ralph Fiennes with lead actor Oleg Ivenko at the Russian State Hermitage MuseumPhoto The White Crow
Director Ralph Fiennes with lead actor Oleg Ivenko
at the Russian State Hermitage Museum
Photo The White Crow

Ivenko has been given access to many films and photographs, amateur and professional. “I analyse how he changed when he remained in Paris. I try to understand how it happened. An amazing desire for life is one of the features of Nureyev’s character. He is a person of passions. How did he work! He was so obstinate that he did not leave the hall until he did what went wrong… An animal that needs to be liberated is inside every person. Such an animal in Nureyev was constantly asking to go outside.”

Besides directing, Fiennes is also playing Nureyev’s mentor Alexander Pushkin, former star of the Kirov and mentor to Nureyev at the Leningrad Choreographic School. The cast also includes dancers Sergei Polunin, Anastasia Meskova (Bolshoi Ballet) and Anna Polikarpova (Hamburg Ballet). Among the actors are Chulpan Khamatova, a Russian film, theatre and TV actress, also known for her charitable activities with children with cancer; Adèle Exarchopoulos, Raphaël Personnaz and Calypso Valois, all from France; and Louis Hofmann from Germany. Choreography is by Johan Kobborg, former principal of The Royal Ballet.

The White Crow is being developed by BBC Films and Gabrielle Tana (The Duchess, Dancer, Philomena) who will also produce with Carolyn Marks Blackwood through Magnolia Mae Productions and François Ivernel (The Queen, Slumdog Millionaire, The Iron Lady). The film is expected to be released in 2018.