THE COURIER (2020) – Benedict Cumberbatch Historical Thriller Delivers

I finally caught up with THE COURIER (2020) which was released back in March, and I was not disappointed.

This period piece drama based on true events and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne, an ordinary unassuming British businessman who finds himself in the middle of American/Soviet espionage at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s tells a captivating story of real life bravery amidst the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

THE COURIER, now available on Prime Video, opens with Soviet General Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) worrying that Khrushchev is too unhinged to be in control of a nuclear arsenal, and so he reaches out to the Americans hoping to initiate a secret dialogue to keep the peace. CIA operative Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) reaches out to her counterpart at Britain’s MI6 Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) to help broker this arrangement because the U.S. does not have a solid footing of operatives on the ground in the Soviet Union. Franks agrees to send in one of their agents, but Emily suggests instead they send in someone who is not an agent, hoping to arouse less suspicion. They choose businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) since he had planned to expand his sales to the Soviet Union anyway.

At first, Wynne wants no part of the deal, as he has a wife and son, but he changes his mind when Emily lays out just how serious things are and what his involvement would mean for the safety of the entire world. Wynne travels to the Soviet Union where under the guise of expanding his business he meets with Oleg Penkovsky, and in public they talk shop, and in private Penkovsky slips Greville intel which he brings back to England upon his return home.

But the more Greville visits the Soviet Union, the more suspicious the KGB becomes, at a time when Emily refuses to suspend the operation as the intel clearly details Khrushchev’s interest in supplying Cuba with nuclear missiles. And Greville doesn’t want out anyway, as he and Penkovsky have become friends, and he wants to help Penkvosky and his family defect, an endeavor which proves to be the riskiest one of all.

I really enjoyed THE COURIER. It’s a handsome production. Director Dominic Cooke captures the look and feel of the 1960s locations, from the Soviet Union to Great Britain. The set pieces, costumes, and general feel of the time are all there.

It also tells a riveting story, with an excellent screenplay by Tom O’Connor. The characters are fleshed out, the dialogue is first rate, and the story compels from start to finish. The situations throughout are engrossing, emotional, and exciting. O’Connor also wrote the screenplay for THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017), which is such a different movie from THE COURIER it’s funny to think that O’Connor wrote both, as THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD was a raunchy comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson that I enjoyed much more than I should have as I found myself laughing throughout. While I liked that movie, I enjoyed THE COURIER even more.

Benedict Cumberbatch as he always does excels in his performance as Greville Wynne. At first, he’s the consummate British businessman, successful because he knows how to make his clients feel good, even losing at golf regularly so his clients can win. And once in the Soviet Union he’s terrified, knowing that all eyes are on him and that he can’t trust anyone other than Penkovsky. But as the stakes grow higher, Greville changes, wanting to do more, so much so that he refuses to leave without trying to help Penkovsky defect first.

Likewise, Merab Ninidze is excellent as Oleg Penkovsky. He exudes the kind of confidence as Penkovsky that allows Greville to trust him and feel safe in his presence. Of course, when dealing with the KGB, no one is safe, and that becomes apparent as the story goes on.

I also enjoyed Jessie Buckley as Greville’s wife Sheila. Their story where Sheila suspects Greville’s frequent trips to the Soviet Union means he’s having an extramarital affair, since he had done this before, is a moving one, and one that becomes more emotional later in the film as Sheila learns the truth behind her husband’s visits out of the country.

The rest of the cast is just as good, and this one is well-acted throughout.

THE COURIER also enjoys an effective music score by Abel Korzeniowski. It captures the flavor of the Soviet Union and really enhances the drama in this movie.

THE COURIER is a superior piece of historical storytelling. It captures the efforts of two men who attempted to bring peace to the world and who in fact did contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile crisis. As Penkovsky tells Greville, “We are only two people. But this is how things change.”

If you enjoy period piece dramas, especially those steeped in historical intrigue, you should definitely check out THE COURIER.

It delivers.

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