Nijinsky (film)

Nijinsky is a 1980 American biographical film directed by Herbert Ross. Hugh Wheeler wrote a screenplay that explores the later life and career of Vaslav Nijinsky; it was based largely on the premier danseur's personal diaries (a bowdlerized 1936 version was edited and published by his wife, Romola de Pulszky), and her 1934 biography of Nijinsky, largely ghostwritten by Lincoln Kirstein, who later co-founded the New York City Ballet.

Theater poster
Directed byHerbert Ross
Produced byNora Kaye
Stanley O'Toole
Harry Saltzman
Written byHugh Wheeler
Romola Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky
StarringAlan Bates
George De La Peña
Leslie Browne
Alan Badel
Jeremy Irons
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byWilliam Reynolds
Hera Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • March 20, 1980 (1980-03-20)
Running time
129 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,047,454[1]


The film suggests Nijinsky was driven into madness by both his consuming ambition and self-enforced heterosexuality. He became involved with Romola de Pulszky, a society girl who joined 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 a diagnosis of schizophrenia begins.

Principal cast

Principal production credits


Production notes

Critical reception

Reception to Nijinsky is mixed. It holds a 40% rating and an average score of 5.6/10 at Rotten Tomatoes.[3]

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."[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]

Director Tony Richardson, who had intended to direct the planned 1970 film on Nijinsky, considered this 1980 film a "travesty".[7]


  1. "Nijinsky (1980) - Box Office Mojo".
  2. "American Film". 5 (1–10). 1979: 19. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. "Nijinsky (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
  4. Schickel, Richard (24 March 1980). "Cinema: Blunted Point" via
  5. "Nijinsky, directed by Herbert Ross - Film review".
  6. Channel 4 review, Seattle Times
  7. Richardson, Tony (1993). The Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography. William Morrow and Company. p. 273. ISBN 9780688121013.
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