The film “The Courier” begins in the early 1960s. Nikita Khrushchev (Vladimir Chuprikov) is addressing a room full of high ranking Soviet politicians and people important within the communist party. The First Secretary of the Communist Party states that he is not content with the Soviet Union’s current standing in the world. He wants to expand Russia’s sphere of influence by placing missiles within communist countries like Cuba, as a strategic military deterrent against attacks from America.
Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), the ranking member of the Soviet trade delegation, doesn’t like what he hears. He is worried that what Khrushchev wants to do has the potential to begin World War III. From the outset, he begins to formulate a plan to thwart the First Secretary. Who can he turn to?
British businessman Greville Wynne is leading a moderately successful life. He’s a charming, salesman who sells factory equipment to companies throughout Europe. The character is completely embodied by BAFTA and Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock). One of the ways Wynne endears himself to his clients is by playing and losing to them on the golf course. His home life is good. He’s married to Sheila played by BAFTA winner Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose). The couple have one child, a son, Andrew (Keir Hills). Wynne is not, however, as far along in his career as he would like to be.
Wynne’s chance to elevate his standing in the world and grow his business comes from people he never thought he would deal with. The businessman is just the sort of person that MI6 headed by Dickie Franks (Angus Wright); and CIA agent Emily Donovan played by Emmy winner Rachel Brosnaham (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) are seeking. He’s a good businessman, but not so powerful and recognizable that he can’t blend in.
Franks and Donovan want Wynne to travel to Moscow and attempt to entice Penkovsky into business ventures. While Wynne can conduct business and is free to get whatever financial compensation from the Soviets he can gather, the cover story is a ruse. Wynne has signed up to help smuggle secret information such as pictures of military buildups out of Moscow and into the hands of MI6 and the CIA. Penkovsky doesn’t need convincing; all he wants is safe passage to America for himself and his family once the mission is completed.
What starts out between Wynne and Penkovsky as a business arrangement grows into a strong bond. The two men become friends. During one of the lighter scenes in the film, Penkovsky visits London with members of his trade delegation, and they learn firsthand, how people in a free society were living at the time. Wynne is equally taken by the parts of Moscow that Penkovsky showcases to him.
Will Wynne and Penkovsky be able to complete their mission? Does the information Penkovsky is risking his life to get worth the effort? What will happen if either man is caught? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.
“The Courier” was directed by BAFTA nominee Dominic Cooke (The Hollow Crown). The screenplay was written by Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard). The screenplay was pieced together from a variety of sources from the time period. The first time Wynne and Penkovsky’s story became widely known was the book “The Man From Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky,” which was published on January 1, 1967 by Hutchinson in London. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2020. Parts drama, history, thriller, and war, the movie has a runtime of a 112 minutes.
“The Courier” is a well done thriller that held my interest from start to finish. The cast as a whole were uniformly excellent. I was not familiar with who Wynne or Penkovsky were when I sat down to watch the film on AmazonPrime a short time ago. I’m actually glad I didn’t have prior knowledge of the two men, because while I had a feeling I knew, in part, what was going to take place, certain aspects of the film caught me by surprise, which helped to enhance the film for me. Recommended for those viewers who are fans of the cast, especially Cumberbatch, and who enjoy watching Cold War thrillers.