Can you imagine going from being an ordinary sales person to being an international spy courier? That turned out to be the reality for
Directed by Dominic Cooke and screenplay by Tom O’Connor, The Courier is full of intrigue and intense drama that perfectly captures the stress Penkovsky and Wynne experienced. Based on the 1967 autobiography titled, The Man From Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky. British actor Benedict Cumberbatch admitted his attraction to the role was Wynne’s personality. Reading the script, he was hooked in by Wynne’s “…doggedness and unexpected strength. This idea that he (Greville Wynne) was a salesman selling a version of himself….from being quite severely dyslexic, almost to the point of illiteracy, to being a conduit for the West during the Cold War and The Cuban Missile Crisis” is utterly fascinating to watch. Cumberbatch adds, “Spies are interesting meat and drink for actors because there’s always mask play and role play and the shifts are very sudden and quick.”
By 1960 , the nuclear arms race had intensified. The US and Soviet Union now possessed weapons capable of wiping out humanity. So, as Khrushchev and his American counterparts traded threats, many feared that the world was on the verge of imminent destruction. At this point British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is recruited and urged by Britain’s MI-6 and a CIA operative Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) to form a covert, dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) in an effort to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Penkovsky and Wynne strike up a significant friendship solidifying their trust and respect toward each other. After being home for a minute, Wynne learns their combined efforts have possibly put Penkovsky and his family’s lives at risk. Upon being warned of the danger lurking by returning to Moscow, the decision is made to return in an attempt to assist his friend escape. The KGB catches and arrest Wynne subsequently sentencing him to 8 years in jail. In April 1964, Wynne was released in exchange for the Soviet Spy Konon Malady and allowed to resume his business career before dying peacefully as a broken man no longer at peace with himself in 1990. Oleg Penkovsky was executed and buried in an unmarked grave. His wife and children were allowed to live quietly in Moscow.
This fascinating tale dramatized how two men, with very different ideology and worlds, hoping to make a difference. Together, they smuggled more than 5000 top secret documents out of the USSR . To this day, Penkovsky is considered to have been the most valuable Soviet source ever recruited by the West.
The start of this film will have you all in, slows down midway and picks up stream about 3/4 of the way through. In addition to the wonderful direction, the cinematography of Sean Bobbit is an integral part of the screenplay serving as it own character coupled with an impressive score composed by Abel Korzeniowski.
What is undebatable are the performances of Cumberbatch and Ninidze. Their artistry, chemistry and commitment to honoring these very different individuals is awe-inspiring to witness. It’s also a painful reminder of how “The Courier” seems to be part of the global zeitgeist, as we have witnessed, especially within the past four years, with Korea, Trump, China, and the pulling up all the old nuclear treaties between Russia and America. Not to mention that shortly after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a telephone hotline was established between the White House and the Kremlin. This has prevented the world from ever going so close to nuclear catastrophe. How eery was. it to witness all that progress nearly go in in smoke over the last four years.
Produced by Lionsgate, The Courier is an incredible historical cinematic chronicle of a chapter in world history of how an unassuming, unheralded British civilian helped save the world.