Cuba is probably best known for the Cuban missile crisis as well as its revered hand rolled cigars. Though smoking is now somewhat frowned upon we were led to believe that actress Amanda Holden used to smoke cigars and when appearing in a West End play she would apparently often disappear into a dark alley to put a hand rubbed Cuban in her mouth (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed)…..but we digress. The Courier is set at the time of the Cuban missile crisis when the increasingly unstable Russian leader Kruschev was putting nuclear weapons on America’s doorstep in Cuba pushing the Cold War to the edge of potential nuclear Armageddon. It wasn’t just the US that was getting jittery but members of the Russian state notably Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) an experienced Russian agent who could see that Khrushchev in his ‘who-will-blink-first’ brinkmanship could have catastrophic consequences and starts passing information to the West in a bid to avert this.
Like Penkovsky, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch – watch him at the Doctor Strange premiere HERE) was a family man and had also been a soldier (MI6 dismiss him as, ‘a private who never saw action’) but was now but a humble machine parts salesman who frequently travelled behind the Iron Curtain with his business interests. It made him an ideal subject for recruitment by MI6 along with CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) and it is a surprise to Wynne when he is approached and told that he could potentially save the world from a lunatic. With no formal training not even having seen a Bond as this all happened before they were made he agrees and Wynne flits back and fore to Russia under the guise of selling machine parts whilst accepting packages from Penkovsky to be taken back to dear old Blighty.
This went on for several years with the only eyebrow being raised coming from Wynne’s wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) already suspicious of him because of a previous affair he had had and now his sudden interest in exercising and renewed interest in the bedroom fuels her suspicion further as it does with the KGB too but for different reasons. The Courier and his Russian agent counterpart develop a close friendship and both actors are convincing in the roles as might be expected by such calibre of actor. The last act of the film focuses on both of them being caught and tortured. Wynne undergoes all manner of brutal mind games and physical abuse the likes of which we’ve not seen since Big Brother finished its run on TV. But there’s an especially moving scene when having been tortured for months on end they are shoved into an interrogation room together and the depth of their friendship is truly revealed.
The Courier treads the well beaten path of real life spy thrillers but rather than focus on the East-West swap of prisoners this looks at the bigger picture of doing something, potentially life threatening, for the greater good of mankind. Much of the standard tropes of these type of spy thrillers are here but perhaps the scale of what they achieved and could inspire others is made when one says, ‘We are only two people but this is how things change’.
We spoke to the film’s director Dominic Cooke about the making of the film with some fascinating behind the scenes stories…….
Here’s the Courier trailer…….