With a recent UN report harbouring doom about the future sustainability of our life on this planet, we are perhaps now more than ever able to imagine the mindset of those who lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis of late 1962.
As superpowers beyond our control struggled for dominance, the possibility of it all being over was (and perhaps is) an omni-present one. Based on a true story, The Courier draws attention to the dangerous spy mission that helped avert those end of times.
What Is The Courier About?
Director Dominic Cooke and writer Tom O’Connor bring to the screen the story of Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange), an average British businessman recruited by the CIA and MI6 to be their liaison with high-ranking Soviet official Oleg Penkovsky.
Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), scared by the violent pro-nuclear strike rhetoric espoused by USSR leader Krushchev, had reached out to offer vital information in return for being allowed to defect with his family.
Wynne, as a businessman who travelled abroad frequently anyway, was deemed less likely to be seen as suspicious than traditional spy methods.
Knowing that the heart of the spycraft we see is based on real events lends The Courier a tense air of legitimacy.
We know perfectly well that the Cuban Missile Crisis did not, in the end, result in global thermonuclear war, but this foreknowledge doesn’t undercut the drama.
We live through the efforts of Penkovsky to accumulate evidence of Soviet Cuban presence and Wynne’s nervy transportation of it back to the UK.
The burgeoning friendship between these two buoys up the film; the growing threat to them as individuals drives the stakes like a screw.
‘Assume everyone you talk to is a spy’, warns Penkovsky before adding that even if they aren’t, they will likely pick up the phone and inform any suspicious activity, such is the level of self-surveillance in Moscow.
The Courier Official Trailer
Is The Courier Worth Watching?
Rounding out the cast is some excellent performances. Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose) as Sheila Wynne – kept in the dark about the true nature of Greville’s work – carries the pain in her face as her suspicions are roused.
CIA officer Emily Donovan, played by Rachel Brosnahan, battles with the stress of kowtowing to the Brits whilst having to push for information vital to her own country.
The delicate balance of competing interests is portrayed in such a way as to evoke classic spy movies such as The Conversation, or tense personal stories like The Lives of Others.
Cooke has crafted a fine film with The Courier. It breathes life into the very analog human efforts required to avert mutually assured destruction.
Cumberbatch’s vulnerability and Ninidze’s weary resolution combine to make a fascinating tale of the strength of human conviction.
Leaders wail, rattle, and grandstand to the world. People like Wynne and Penkovsky are the ones shoveling the coal underneath.
Words by Mike Record