British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) doesn’t have the most suave persona. And it’s because of this very reason that MI5 and the CIA have collaborated in their bid to maximise the potential of an insider during the time of America and Russian intensifying their nuclear arms race.
“You drink too much and you’re not in great shape…If this was the least bit dangerous, you really are the last person we’d send” is what Wynne is relayed when potentially recruited by Rachel Brosnahan‘s American agency official, certifying that the risk of being caught is low. Low-risk and unglamorous it may be, his role no less important, and Dominic Cooke‘s The Courier makes a point throughout that no matter how much government support you believe you have, it’s never enough to keep you reliably safe.
Set in the early 1960’s, acting off a smuggled note to the US Embassy in Moscow that suggests “nuclear war is coming”, Wynne is dubbed an ideal candidate to act as surveillance due to his unassuming businessman persona and the fact that he deals with international trade. Having already given his wife (Jessie Buckley) enough of a reason to suspect foul play pertaining to constant travel due to past indiscretions, Wynne is surprised she seems as comfortable as she does when business trips to Russia become more and more frequent.
This source of tension is well utilised throughout Tom O’Connor‘s script as Wynne travels back and forth, his wife understandably growing concerned as the trips intensify, all the while it being Soviet Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) that he’s truly growing close to as they risk life and limb to combat the Cuban Missile Crisis. Much of The Courier‘s success belongs to the dynamic created between Ninidze and Cumberbatch, with the latter demonstrating in the film’s backend how committed he truly is to the character’s representation.
Whilst the real-life Wynne wrote books about what took place, the fact that this is a true story that may not be common knowledge to all means it’s best for the uninitiated to witness how this story plays out without any preconceived notions. It’s a story that takes a turn for the worse when you least want it to, and though Cooke shows restrain when detailing the atrocities of what such prisoners as Wynne experienced, it never sugarcoats proceedings, resulting in an emotionally fraught feature balances its temperament of being both entertaining and educational.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Courier is screening in Australian theatres from April 1st, 2021