For a generation of movie and television fans a spy is someone who jets around the world, flirting with the opposite sex and getting into the occasional fight or car chase. Whether your favourite spy be Sidney Bristow, XXX or the leader of the pack James Bond they all live pretty much the same life. The weird thing that in comparison to real life things are a way off the scale. In real life your traditional spy will be doing more simple tasks in order to get information back to their handlers, and fights and car chases are the last things they want as they just draw attention to themselves.
Luckily for serious cinema lovers that unrealistic portrayal of a spy is nowhere to be seen in the new Cold War thriller The Courier. Directed by Dominic Cooke (On Chesil Beach) The Courier tells the story of British spy Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange). Wynne had no super power or even special abilities instead he was a simple businessman recruited by a MI6 Agent named Dickie Franks (Angus Wright – Maleficent) and a CIA Agent named Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan – Patriots Day) to become the go between with their Russian ‘asset.’
Wynne then finds himself in a position where he has to lie to his wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley – Wild Rose) as he keeps making business trips to Russia so he can meet up with and get information from Russian defector Oleg Penkovsky (Mereb Ninidze – Jupiter’s Moon), who himself has to live a double life to feed the information across.
Rather than rely on roof-top shootouts or car chases through cities Cooke’s film explores the psychological and mental trauma that spies and defectors have to face. While Wynne and Penkovsky do become firm friends, with quite a few drinking sessions, the stress on the two men throughout the film is apparent.
The brilliant screenplay by Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) explores the wonderful bond that developed between the two men and reveals a Cold War bravery that few people would ever have known existed. The film reveals the secret tactics that the pair used to exchange information and also reveals the stress the two pretty much constantly lived under. The tension that the screenplay grouped with Cooke’s directional skills manages to create genuinely has its audience on the edge of its seat. Even scenes that seem basic, such as either Wynne or Penkovsky being followed become high drama moments where the audience is totally pulled into to experience what the characters at hand are feeling.
The film is further enhanced by the brilliant acting performances of its two leads. For some people Cumberbatch is just another ‘Marvel super-hero’ but here he reminds audiences just what a brilliant actor he can be. His performance here in The Courier is equal to anything he delivered in The Imitation Game and he is well supported by Mereb Nindie who clearly shows here that he deserves to be appearing in Hollywood films.
If you are wanting to see spies jumping out of planes or driving cars off cliffs than The Courier is not the film for you. If instead though you want to see a film that tells a little known story for history while showing the psychological stress and trauma that being a spy can cause for a person and his associates then this is a film that you simply must see. A brilliant screenplay and an amazing performance from Cumberbatch makes The Courier one of the must see films of 2021.