Film Review & Trailer: The Courier

Review By Frances Winston

Directed by: Dominic Cooke – Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright

In cinemas now!

This is based on the true story of British businessman, Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) who was recruited to deliver messages to secret agent, Oleg Penkovsky (Ninidze) in Moscow in the 1960s.

Just in case you don’t remember your history from school, that was during the height of the Cold War, when the whole world was terrified of the possibility of a nuclear bomb being dropped. As the Cuban missile crisis escalated, with the Soviets transporting their bombs to the South American country, it seemed a very real possibility that the world faced another devastating war.

It was in this atmosphere that Greville, an ordinary run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, out of shape salesman, found himself approached by a friend, who was in actuality a spy for MI6, and asked to help smuggle crucial intelligence out of the Soviet Union, under the guise of business trips.

Initially, all went smoothly, and he grew quite close to his contact, Penkovsky. However, it wasn’t long before the KGB realised who was betraying them. Both Penkovsky and Wynne found themselves arrested, with the latter spending two years in a tough Russian prison, before being released in a prisoner exchange in 1964. As this is a true story this isn’t a spoiler!

I wasn’t familiar with this tale before seeing this film, so hearing a character describe the lean, lithe, Cumberbatch as out of shape made me laugh somewhat, and indeed the real-life pre-prison Greville was somewhat portlier than Cumberbatch is here.

Scriptwriters possibly could have removed those references though, after the casting of Cumberbatch. The obviously egregious remarks about his appearance aside, Cumberbatch is excellent as Greville, particularly in the last third of the movie, where his exploits catch up with him. He completely carries this film. The supporting cast do a good job, although many of them are written as stereotypes. Most of the Russians wouldn’t be out of place in any of the early James Bond movies.

This takes a long time to build to its climax, and at nearly two hours, it could have been at least 20 minutes shorter. It is super stylish, and very reminiscent of the spy thrillers that were so prevalent in the 70s and 80s. It oozes atmosphere, and is visually impressive. Cook has a great eye for light and shadow, and uses both to full effect.

The Courier lags somewhat in the middle, but outside of that will have you gripped – particularly if you don’t know the story. It lacks the action of many fictional spy stories, but this is true to Wynne’s story.

Actually, one of the most extraordinary things about this story is how ordinary the whole thing was. Solidly engaging, this is a fascinating watch.

See Trailer Below:

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