Life & Culture

Film review: The Courier

Linda Marric enjoys a story of Cold War espionage


The true story of how an ordinary British businessman became a Cold War hero is told in The Courier, a gripping spy drama from acclaimed theatre director Dominic Cooke and screenwriter Tom O'Connor. Cooke’s debut feature was the ill-fated adaptation of Ian McEwan’s best selling novel On Chesil Beach which failed to garner much enthusiasm from audiences, but his latest is undeniably far superior both thematically and visually.

When he is recruited by MI6 in 1960s to infiltrate the Soviet nuclear programme, British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds himself at the centre of one of the most historical Cold War moments. After a few months of working with his Soviet counterpart Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) - a decorated Soviet war hero disenchanted by the current regime - Wynne quickly forms a lasting bond with him and hopes to help his new friend defect to the West with his family.

Caught in a game of cat and mouse with the KGB, Wynne and Penkovsky find themselves in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, as he scrambles to end his mission in the East and return home, Wynne is caught between wanting to do the right thing by his friend and escaping to safety to his own family.

Having gone into it not knowing a single thing about this extraordinary story, I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by Cooke’s film. He presents a story which is both intriguing and genuinely heartfelt without ever veering into melodrama or hackneyed spy movie tropes.

Cumberbatch and Georgian actor Ninidze play off brilliantly against one another, delivering two stunning and genuinely touching performances. Elsewhere, Mrs Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan is impalpable in the role of American intelligence agent Emily Donovan, and Jesse Buckley delivers yet another stellar performance as Wynne’s long suffering wife Sheila.

Overall, this is a gorgeously written, heartfelt and gripping story of heroism and friendship which is further elevated by two extraordinary central performances and Cooke’s impressive storytelling. A genuinely touching film about friendship, honour and the importance of standing up for one’s principles no matter what.

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