The Courier

The Courier, directed by Dominic Cooke, is an espionage drama that very engagingly narrates the sacrifices made by two individuals during the cold war period to stop an imminent nuclear war. The story has the scope to present all the shades of the life of a spy, and the screenplay gives equal space to all that. The end result is a moving drama that successfully presents the reality of those days and the struggle of those who worked for the countries in those difficult times.

Greville Wynne is a British businessman who used to travel to Eastern Europe for his business purposes. During the cold war period, the CIA, through MI6 asks for Mr. Wynne’s help to get some vital intelligence data from Colonel Oleg Penkovsky. All he had to do was disguise himself as a business collaborator with Penkovsky and act as a courier service to bring the data. What we see in The Courier is a man with zero experience in such espionage business doing it for the sake of the world, risking too many things.

Because the movie is about a British individual, the usual jingoistic tone we see in American films that deliberately tarnish Russia as the powerhouse of all the evil in the world is missing here. The perspective of The Courier is more on a humanitarian level. We get to see how two individuals who have family decided to risk it all for a more significant cause. It’s almost like two parallel stories about two persons who connected on some levels. Instead of making it a story where the climax is someone doing something to stop the launch of the missiles, here the cinematic high happens in a very emotional moment where a piece of information is passed from one person to another. It was quite fascinating to see such a moment being the critical moment in a movie that primarily dealt with the spy life.

Benedict Cumberbatch depicted the role of Greville Wynne very elegantly. The initial hesitation, the way he bonds with Penkovsky were all believable, and the prison phase in the story was performed wonderfully by Benedict. Another actor who deserves equal appreciation in elevating the movie on a performance level is Merab Ninidze as Oleg Penkovsky. The story, in some ways, is equally about Penkovsky and Wynne and Ninidze was able to present his character impressively. Rachel Brosnahan as the CIA agent and Jessie Buckley as Sheila Wynne are the other major performers here.

Written by Tom O’Connor, The Courier has this broad feel. It is almost when you feel like the story is about to end in an Argo style, you realize there is more to it (of course, I didn’t try to do too much research before watching the film). I think the script’s ability to give us a more comprehensive picture of the scenario within a span of two hours makes the movie an absorbing experience. From the initial gentle pace and then followed by the speedy spy phase and eventually becoming a survival drama, The Courier has many tones. The production design is excellent, and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography elevates the visual quality with high contrast frames. The edits also need to be appreciated for not lingering on too much on certain phases.

It is interesting how an espionage spy thriller manages to be so engrossing and gripping despite not having a suspense or twist in its plot. And if you look at it, the movie, in some ways, is a tragedy too. But Dominic Cooke and Tom O’Conner skillfully highlight the good intentions of their characters to create a story about regular people who made extraordinary sacrifices for a better future.

Final Thoughts

Dominic Cooke and Tom O'Conner skillfully highlight the good intentions of their characters to create a story about regular people who made extraordinary sacrifices for a better future.


Green: Recommended Content

Orange: The In-Between Ones

Red: Not Recommended


By Aswin Bharadwaj

Founder and editor of Lensmen Reviews.