The Courier is a solid true-life espionage tale set at the height of the Cold War with Benedict Cumberbatch playing amateur spy Greville Wynne. Tensions between the US and the Soviet Union are at their height in the 1960s; nuclear war is a very real danger; classified information and spies are needed. The CIA, in the shape of Rachel Brosnahan’s Emily Donavan, and MI6’s Dickie Franks, played by Angus Wright, find themselves needing a courier: someone who can retrieve and pass on leaked information from a new, vital source within Soviet military intelligence. This is Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, played by Merab Ninidze.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s affable but bored businessman Greveille Wynne is contacted, and he finds himself at the centre of this web of intrigue. Sent out to Russia to create business contacts, he meets Pendovsky, who passes him material and unwittingly places him in more danger than he at first believes. Yet the friendship grows between the two men, who share nights at the theatre in both Russia and the UK, Pendovsky adding fuel to the intelligence fire all this time. As the situation in Cuba escalates in the Bay Of Pigs and the cold war suddenly looks to turn hot, matters become precarious, extractions are planned and prisoners are taken.
Cumberbatch fits the role well as Wynne: a man who ends up in deeper than he thought, full of fear but also aware of his duty and his bond with his Russian counterpart. Jessie Buckley is effective in a token wife role, suspicious of Wynne’s trips to the Soviet Union following an earlier affair, and a scene where she visits Cumberbatch in a gulag is deeply moving. Otherwise, this is a familiar slow-burning tale, effectively delivered in a handsome way by theatre director Dominic Cooke. It never quite reaches the emotional pinnacles it should, but its theme of two men on opposite sides working for a common good and essentially averting nuclear war resonates.
Dir: Dominic Cooke (12A, 111 mins)
Released in cinemas on Fri 13 Aug
words KEIRON SELF
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