Nijinsky (film)

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Theater poster
Directed by Herbert Ross
Produced by Nora Kaye
Stanley O'Toole
Harry Saltzman
Written by Hugh Wheeler
Romola Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky
Starring Alan Bates
George De La Peña
Leslie Browne
Alan Badel
Jeremy Irons
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by William Reynolds
Hera Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • March 20, 1980 (1980-03-20)
Running time 129 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,047,454[1]

Nijinsky is a 1980 American biographical film directed by Herbert Ross. Hugh Wheeler, whose screenplay centers on the later life and career of Vaslav Nijinsky, used the premier danseur's personal diaries (a bowdlerized 1936 version edited by his wife, Romola de Pulszky) and his wife's 1934 biography of Nijinsky, largely ghostwritten by Lincoln Kirstein, as his primary source materials.


The film suggests Nijinsky was driven into madness by both his consuming ambition and self-enforced heterosexuality, the latter prompted by his romantic involvement with Romola de Pulszky, a society girl who joins impresario Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes specifically to seduce Nijinsky. After a series of misunderstandings with Diaghilev, who is both his domineering mentor and possessive lover, Nijinsky succumbs to Romola's charms and marries her. After this, his gradual decline from artistic moodiness to schizophrenia begins.

Principal cast[edit]

Principal production credits[edit]


Production notes[edit]

  • Harry Saltzman purchased the rights in 1969 from film director Charles Vidor's widow.[2] Saltzman had originally promised to let Ken Russell direct the film, but due to a falling out, Saltzman hired Tony Richardson to direct. The film was cancelled during pre-production. After the success of Herbert Ross's film The Turning Point, Saltzman approached Ross to direct; Ross was initially unenthusiastic.[2]
  • Tony Richardson, who had intended to direct the 1970 film, considered this 1980 film a "travesty".[3]
  • This was Herbert Ross' second film to focus on the world of ballet, following The Turning Point in 1977 where he had worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov and other members of the American Ballet Theatre. Baryshnikov turned down the role of Vaslav Nijinsky and returned to the American Ballet Theatre, where he was promoted to the role of Artistic Director.
  • Nijinsky was Jeremy Irons' film debut. It was the second to last film produced by the famed Harry Saltzman (after he gave up his share of the James Bond rights).
  • The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Festival Ballet were featured in the dance sequences. David Hersey of the National Film Theatre in London designed the theatrical lighting in these scenes.
  • The film grossed $1,047,454 in the United States [4]

Critical reception[edit]

Reception to Nijinsky is mixed. It holds a 40% rating and an average score of 5.6/10 at Rotten Tomatoes.[5]

In his review in Time, Richard Schickel opined, "Some people will be titillated by the openness with which homosexual love is portrayed in the film. But this is mostly a slow, cautious biography, elegantly attentive to Edwardian decor and dress. It slights Nijinsky's melodramatic story and, finally, offends with its relentless reductionism. There are times when excesses of good taste become a kind of bad taste, a falsification of a subject's spirit and milieu. This is never more true than when the troubles of a genius are presented in boring and conventional terms."[6]

Time Out London calls it "the best gay weepie since Death in Venice … the first major studio film to centre on a male homosexual relationship (albeit a doomed one) without being moralistic … director Ross and writer Hugh Wheeler … do right by their male characters (Alan Bates, in particular, is a plausibly adult Diaghilev), their grasp of the historical reconstructions seems more than competent, and their dialogue and exposition are unusually adroit. Best of all, they never show ballet for its own sake, and have the courage to keep emotional dynamics in the forefront throughout."[7]

Channel 4 says, "What could have been a powerful period drama quickly descends into soap opera territory … but it's always watchable, and director Ross … laces the action with some well-choregraphed dance."[8]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "American Film" 5 (1-10). 1979. p. 19. 
  3. ^ Richardson, Tony (1993). The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography. William Morrow and Company. p. 273. ISBN 9780688121013. 
  4. ^ Nijinsky at
  5. ^ "Nijinsky (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-02-02. 
  6. ^ Time review
  7. ^ Time Out London review
  8. ^ Channel 4 review, Seattle Times

External links[edit]