The White Crow 2019 ***

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Ralph Fiennes clearly digs Rudolph Nureyev; for his third film as director, he’s attempted to capture the story of one of the world’s greatest dancers, which some success. Fiennes’ previous efforts (Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman) were real duffers, but with a leading man who looks the part in Oleg Ivenko, The White Crow is more than passable. The title refers to the Russian notion of otherness, of an individual who is separate from the pack; a black sheep in our parlance. Flashing back and forward to key moments in Nureyev’s life as he ponders defecting during a tour to Paris, the attempts to get under the waxen skin of the individual are fairly shallow; Nureyev rages at a toy-shop owner whose range of toy trains bore him, or glowers as his patient tutor (Fiennes) refuses to acknowledge his genius. But things pick up in the final stretch when Nureyev faces a choice to defect to the West or return to his family in Russia; the facts are compelling in these final scenes, and the choice is presented with some gravity. Anyone with a feeling for dance, and Nureyev in particular will be interested in this, and Fiennes doesn’t short-change us with the ballet scenes, which looks authentic and feel right. But much of the presentation is dull, the photography of Russia and Paris is so grim and deliberately out of focus that it’s hard to watch, and Hare’s script is dry and lack insight. But a bit like the Queen biopic, a film about this subject only needs to be halfway good to be watchable; the legend of Nureyev carries the film.

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