Film Review: The Courier (2020)

The world may not be lacking for conventional Cold War spy thrillers but The Courier is a great example thereof

“If this mission was the least bit dangerous, you really are the last man we’d send”

DIrected by Dominic Cooke and starring an impressively thespy cast, I’m not entirely sure how I managed to let The Courier pass me by last year but hey ho, I’ve gotten there now. Truth be told, it’s not necessarily an earth-shatteringly dramatic film, with its true-life spy story, but there’s something about its steadiness and essential humanity that makes it much more affecting that you might expect.

The film is based on the true life story of Greville Wynne, a businessman whose regular trips to Moscow in the 1950s saw him co-opted into service by MI5, acting as a courier for a high-level Soviet informer. Despite the circumstances, a friendship grows between the two men which turns out to be pretty handy as they end up best positioned in order to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Benedict Cumberbatch returns to the stiff British upper lip he does so well as Wynne, and he is matched beautifully by Merab Ninidze as Oleg Penkovsky, thoroughly haunted by a life lived under suspicion and the entente cordiale that grows between them is beautifully played against the uncertainties of shifting societies in their home countries and also under the looming spectre of US influence.

A crack ensemble includes Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan, both excellent as the UK and US spooks in charge of how far to let Wynne go, Jessie Buckley brings huge impact to the undersold role of Wynne’s wife Sheila whose fears about her marriage congeal into something far more horrifying. The Courier might be a tad old-fashioned but it is none the worse for it and not knowing the history myself, I was genuinely gripped and surprised by where the story took us. A solid watch for over the Christmas holidays.

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