Firebird review: Cold War drama is ‘glossy and sensual forbidden romance’

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True romance can blossom even in the most oppressive of surroundings.

Based on a true story and taking its title from Igor Stravinsky's ballet that draws its leads closer together, Firebird follows junior Soviet Air Force officer Sergey (Tom Prior) as he works hard at an Estonian airbase in 1977.

Sergey works at the base with his childhood best friend Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), who has hopes of a conventional future with him, which disagrees with Sergey’s creative aspirations.

However, both of their lives are changed forever with the arrival of starfighter pilot Roman Medveyev (Oleg Zagordnii), who clearly draws the attention of both Sergey and Luisa.

As the Cold War threatens to escalate into a disaster, so does this triangle as Sergey and Roman find themselves pursuing a forbidden but passionate affair.

Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorodnii star as star-crossed lovers in Firebird
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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In a script based on Sergey Fetisov’s memoir 'The Story Of Roman', writer-director Peeter Rebane and writer-star Tom Prior have helmed a dreamy romance but one that works best as a young man’s journey to realising his true self.

Despite its trappings in real-life, some may feel they've seen this type of Queer love story before, especially with the slightly older lover and the love triangle element, but the Soviet backdrop and the passion for art being weaved through give it some extra heart.

Tom Prior co-wrote the script for Firebird, which he stars in as artistic Sergey
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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Firebird is also a sweeping melodrama that looks picture-perfect, particularly in the sumptuous moments of desire in the rippling seas which comes with danger and eroticism and resembles something from a gorgeous perfume advert.

Of the leading performances, Prior himself is particularly good as the introverted creative soldier who longs for the chance to express himself and escape repressing his hidden desires. The film really is Sergey’s journey and he does sell this with his tortured turn in the final act.

Zagordnii is also every inch the dashing movie star as Roman, while Pozharskaya brings warmth to her turn as Luisa, even if her relationships with Sergey and Roman feel underwritten.

The sensual romance exists on the fringe of danger in Firebird
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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Some authenticity is taken away by the fact all of the characters are speaking in English and despite only a slight variance of accents, there are instances of different dialogue delivery styles, which occasionally feel awkward.

It's a shame that the second half of the film does not feel as detailed as the first too, particularly when some of the characters go through huge life changes but the shading for this doesn't feel particularly grounded in reality.

Instead, these sequences edge closer to going through some standard melodramatic beats, but thankfully the final scenes hit the right spot due to Prior’s devoted performance.

Is Sergey and Roman's love story destined for tragedy or happiness?
(Image: Courtesy of the BFI)

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There is also a call to recognise how little some nations have moved on from the stifling and repressive regimes of the past, but this is suitably non-intrusive and merely underlines the powerful antagonistic forces at play in the film.

Ultimately, Firebird is not a revolutionary Queer romance by any means but it is a glossy love story with conviction and genuine historical tragedy.


Firebird is a glossy and sensual forbidden romance that doesn't break the mould but offers heart and sensitive work from star Tom Prior.

Firebird premiered as part of the Hearts strand at the BFI Flare London Film Festival 2021 which celebrates LGBTIQ+ cinema.

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