The Courier is on digital now and Blu-ray & DVD 1 November from Lionsgate UK.
The Courier is a true-life spy thriller, the story of an unassuming British businessman, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. At the behest of the UK’s MI6 and a CIA operative (Rachel Brosnahan), he forms a covert, dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) in an effort to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Directed by Dominic Cooke, the Cold War espionage thriller The Courier is now available on digital download and will soon be available to own on physical formats.
The film is thoroughly engaging with some captivating direction and you are never left to feel bored due to the perfect pacing. Indeed, there are naturally moments of total tension and suspense and Cooke shows a real awareness, knowing exactly when to introduce moments of rapidity and exhilaration, and when to take his time, slowing down in order to allow the characters more room to breathe. This works especially effectively for this particular story, since its proceedings revolve around the exchange and transportation of top secret information, as opposed to being laden with shoot-outs or other James Bond-style, action-packed sequences. Therefore, the varying pacing works well — high energy moments maintain engagement with its almost actionless plot, whilst slower segments enable character-driven developments and also shed greater light on a relatively unknown yet nonetheless historical operation.
The film’s casting is excellent from top to bottom. Benedict Cumberbatch turns in another top notch performance. As Greville Wynne, he makes for a fine ordinary Welsh businessman, but his talent really shows after his recruitment. Cumberbatch excels in the moments in which he must adopt a false pretense, an ordinary man undergoing an extraordinary assignment who must act like an ordinary man. He captures the underlying nervous disposition with a facade of confidence and oblivious naivety. It is ultimately a shame that, given the nature of the story, much of his dialogue is simply a matter of explaining the technicalities of plans and he has to remain covert, unable to demonstrate the extremities and range of his acting ability. In spite of this, Cumberbatch has an extreme sense of physical commitment to the role, losing a significant amount of weight to reflect the character’s circumstances during his eventual imprisonment. In addition, one particular scene involving Greville and his secret service advisors is brilliant. When told to go home, Cumberbatch is able to showcase his experience and ability, demonstrating a resolute determination to help his newfound friend, Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky.
Speaking of Penkovsky, Merab Ninidze is perhaps the surprise of the entire film with an exquisite turn as Greville’s colluding companion. Elsewhere, Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan come across perfectly as Dickie Franks and Emily Donovan, the aforementioned members of the British and US secret service respectively. Brosnahan stands out in particular as Wright’s female counterpart, whilst Jessie Buckley is fantastic as Greville’s wife, Sheila. However, given the predominant focus of the narrative, she is unfortunately not given an abundance of screen time despite her fantastic offerings. Casting director Nina Gold did brilliantly across the board, but her attention to even the most minor of roles amongst the supporting ensemble specifically deserves huge credit. The casting of young Keir Hills, for instance, as the son of a character played by Cumberbatch is uncanny, almost a spitting image.
On a technical level, the film excels as well. Tom O’Connor’s screenplay always feels believable in its characters’ dialogue and actions, and importantly knows when to avoid words and opt for silence or physical performative cues, whilst Abel Korzeniowski’s classical score is simply sublime. It compliments the time period, location and mood with consummate ease, further enhancing the sense of excitement that Cooke lends to events and reflects Cumberbatch’s excited intrigue plus his tension and nervousness. On this note, the production design by Suzie Davies helps to establish the Cold War period and develops a scale of worldbuilding via the distinct, contrastive sensibilities of Britain and the Soviet Union.
The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt evokes a dingey, secretive and cold atmosphere. The visuals lend a voyeuristic and intrusive quality that is reflective of prying eyes, not only of the protagonists constantly being surveilled and having to constantly be alert of others, but also of the viewer themselves delving into these highly secretive events of the past. The visuals successfully draw attention to the minute details of the mission and afford a deep sense of connection to the two central characters.
The Courier is definitely worth seeking out , even for those usually uninterested in the spy thriller genre. The film stands as a technical marvel that is anchored by two powerhouse performances from Cumberbatch and Ninidze, and explores a significant yet somehow untold true story that has timely implications for a world divided: “We are only two people. But this is how things change.”
Physical copies of the film also include a bonus featurette titled On the Brink: Making The Courier.