Cold War spy Greville Wynne and his Russian source try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
If you’re interested in history you’re likely to know about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in recent years we’ve started to learn more about some of the individuals involved who helped to stop that crisis from becoming a nuclear disaster. As secret documents become declassified, we’re able to learn about the real life espionage and spy activity that was occurring beneath the headlines, leading to some exciting Cold War thrillers such as this movie. In the case of ‘The Courier’, it centres on Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a British businessman who unwittingly finds himself employed as the handler for a high profile Russian secret agent, Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze). This is the story of their dealings and how it played out for both men and for the world as a whole.
Wynne is selected for the role precisely because he doesn’t fit the typical profile of a spy, and his business dealings in Eastern Europe make trips further east to Moscow seem relatively routine. Cumberbatch plays different facets of Wynne, from the charismatic, almost boyish excitement at being recruited, to the dawning realization that his situation is more perilous than he may have initially anticipated. The relationship he forms with Penkovsky is the heart of the film, as both men grow to become friends as well as acquaintances dealing in trade secrets. Georgian actor Merab Ninidze is not someone many will be familiar with (including myself) and he’s really impressive here. Both Ninidze and Cumberbatch do a lot of expressive acting, using subtle glances and facial movements to convey their feelings at any given moment, and I thought Ninidze in particular excelled in this regard.
In terms of the direction from Dominic Cooke, old fashioned and unfussy would be the best description, but don’t take that as a criticism – it absolutely suits the narrative. This is a film that has a fascinating enough story without the need for visual flourishes and Cooke wisely gives over to his leading actors (ably supported by Rachel Brosnahan, Angus Wright and Jessie Buckley) to carry the material. ‘The Courier’ might spend much of its time shrouded in the dark where Greville and Oleg carry out their work and have their clandestine conversations, but Cooke shows himself equally adept when the pace quickens, such as a thrilling sequence when Oleg’s extraction plan is put into motion. I’m fascinated by this period of history so ‘The Courier’ was always likely to entertain me, but it didn’t let me down and I thought this was a really strong movie with a couple of excellent leading performances.
Directed By: Dominic Cooke
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright, Kirill Pirogov, Keir Hills, Marina Mironova, Emma Penzina, Vladimir Chuprikov, Alice Orr-Ewing and Željko Ivanek