The Courier – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Dominic Cooke
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright
In cinemas 13th August
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. Greville agrees to this simple task and is plunged into a new world of international espionage.
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 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 does 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 very stylish and 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.
This 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 its source material. Actually, one of the most extraordinary things about this story is how ordinary the whole thing was. Solidly engaging this is a fascinating watch.