Benedict Cumberbatch never disappoints. His latest stellar appearance in The Courier will have you on the edge of your seat – transported back to the 60s and the Cold War as he takes on the KGB. This old-school spy adventure is based on a true story, too! Here’s what we thought:
There’s something about a good old spy story that hooks its audience, and has them holding their breath without even realising they’re doing it. It’s a timeless kind of art. It transports its viewers so completely that it can be jarring when the film ends and one finds himself gripping the edge of ones sofa. If you’re craving a true life spy thriller that will help you escape from reality for a couple of hours, The Courier should be on your watch list.
The plot follows unassuming British businessman, Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch), as he’s recruited by MI6 and the CIA and sent on a dangerous and secretive intelligence mission to the Soviet Union. The story is framed by the drama and tensions of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the tensions in Wynne’s marriage as he withholds the details of his work from his wife. While in Moscow, he forms a covert partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) and together they provide crucial intelligence to prevent an all-our nuclear war.
Cumberbatch and Ninidze do an excellent job of bringing their characters, and their bond to life. Their bromance is wholly convincing – which tugs tragically at the heart strings later when their partnership is, inevitably, discovered by the Soviets. The film successfully demonstrates the humanity of individuals and families on both sides of the Cold War struggle, as Wynne’s and Penkovsky’s families are presented as loving mirror images of each other.
The film also doubles as a history lesson, and an alarming reminder of what it must have been like to live through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the constant threat of nuclear war. It’s also a reminder of a time in which everybody smoked – perhaps the only characters who aren’t shown with cigarettes hanging from their lips are the two child characters. With some sexual and violent, and misogynistic content, this is perhaps not the best film to watch with young children despite its educational value.
The fact that The Courier is based on the true story of Greville Wynne also adds some emotional gravitas. It serves as a reminder that there are selfless people out there, willing to put themselves in danger for the betterment of the world.
The Courier, in itself, is nothing groundbreaking or transformative. Its strengths are often in the spy flick tropes we’ve come to love in countless films before it. Somehow, though, it’s combination of an engaging score, convincing performances, and dark, moody cinematography work together to create a successful work of art. It’s a film that displays “old-fashioned sturdiness”, and “a whiff of familiarity haunting almost every scene”. And of course, everybody loves Cumberbatch.
This film will warm your heart as well as break it, all the while have you dipping in and out of anxiety as you wait for its characters to be exposed. For fans of Cold War spy films, it’s a must-see, but for anyone who seeks to be transported to another time and place by whatever they’re watching, The Courier is one for the watch list.