White Nights (1985 film)

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White Nights
White nights ver1.jpg
Promotional movie poster for the film
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Produced by William P. Gilmore
Taylor Hackford
Written by James Goldman (story)
James Goldman
Eric Hughes (screenplay)
Nancy Dowd (uncredited)
Music by Michel Colombier
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Fredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Delphi IV Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 22, 1985 (1985-11-22)
Running time
136 minutes
Language English
Box office $42,160,849

White Nights is a 1985 American drama film directed by Taylor Hackford and choreographed by Twyla Tharp and stars Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Jerzy Skolimowski, Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini.[1][2] It was shot in Finland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and Austria.

The film is notable both for the dancing of Hines and Baryshnikov and for the Academy Award winning song "Say You, Say Me" by Lionel Richie in 1986, as well as "Separate Lives" performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin and written by Stephen Bishop (also nominated).

Taylor Hackford met his future wife, Oscar Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, during the filming of White Nights.[3]


Nikolai 'Kolya' Rodchenko (Baryshnikov) is a Soviet ballet dancer who had defected from the Soviet Union. The plane carrying him to a next performance in Tokyo has engine trouble and crashes in Siberia. He is hurt and is soon recognized by KGB officer Colonel Chaiko (Jerzy Skolimowski). Chaiko then contacts African-American tap dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Hines), who has defected to the Soviet Union, and gets them both to Leningrad. Chaiko wants Rodchenko to dance at the season's opening night at the Kirov, and Greenwood to babysit Rodchenko. To convince Rodchenko, Chaiko uses Galina Ivanova (Mirren), a former ballerina who never left the Soviet Union and is an old flame of Rodchenko. After an initial period of racial and artistic friction, the two dancers (and defectors in opposite directions) become strong friends. When Raymond finds that his wife Darya Greenwood (Rossellini) is pregnant, he decides he doesn't want his son to grow up in the Soviet Union, and together with Rodchenko they plan an escape, with the help from Galina, who still has feelings for Rodchenko. While the escape plan is going on, Raymond chooses to stay behind to delay Chaiko, gaining time for Nikolai and Darya to get to the American Consulate at Leningrad. Even though Raymond is incarcerated when the whole plan is revealed, he is finally traded by the Soviets for a political prisoner from America, and reunites with his wife and Nikolai.


The opening ballet sequence, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, originally choreographed by Roland Petit in 1946 and performed anew by Baryshnikov and Faure, was filmed at the Bristol Hippodrome. The gentleman paging the curtain for Baryshnikov is John Randall, the theatre's technical director at the time. The following backstage scenes were filmed at the Albery Theatre in London.[4]

For the crash sequence at the start of the movie, a rebadged Air Lingus Boeing 747 performed a touch-and-go landing at RAF Machrihanish. The plane crash sequence was filmed at Campbeltown Airport on the south-west coast of Scotland, mainly due to its remoteness and that the runway is around 1.7 miles (2.7 km) long.[5] Usually, at a time when movies would use models to crash-land an aircraft as expensive as a Boeing 747, the production team purchased an older Boeing 707 from South America. This was converted with the famous 747 hump, a painted cockpit and a small vision slit on the original cockpit, so the stunt pilots could perform the live action crash-landing. Due to the size differences, forced perspective was used to give the impression of a larger aircraft and short actors used in a brief sequence where a vehicle is almost hit.[citation needed] The film contains an early-career performance by Maryam d'Abo, later to star as a Bond girl in the James Bond film The Living Daylights.

In 1985, many western cold war movies supposedly set in Russia would use locations in the Finnish capital Helsinki with an architectural style resembling Leningrad. For White Nights, a team of travelogue filmmakers from Finland, who previously had done work in the Soviet Union, were hired to film a number of locations in Leningrad, such as the Kirov Theatre and the Lenin monument, as well as a Chaika state-limousine. These scenes were then inserted into the movie, some being in-car scenes. Hackford was disappointed with critics who wrote negative reviews, based on their belief that Helsinki had been used once more but he couldn't correct them and damage the reputation of the Finnish travelogue company and their chances of further work inside the Soviet Union.[6] A part of the movie was filmed at the Finnish island of Reposaari.[7]



White Nights received mixed reviews from critics, as it currently holds a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the film was a commercial success at the box office, grossing over $42 million in the United States.

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