Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
The Courier will evoke memories of prior spy movies and the tropes they often employ. More specifically, you may be reminded of the superior Cold War-era spy-swapping 2015 film, Bridge of Spies. Both films are based on real events and have Russian spies, imprisoned agents, and a swap between Russia and the West.
Director Dominic Cooke and screenwriter Tom O’Connor tell the “based on true events” story of Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch). Wynne was a British businessman who, from 1960 and 1962, smuggled thousands of pieces of intel out of Russia before he was captured, imprisoned, and tortured for two years by the KGB. Assisting him in his role as “courier” is Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a far more experienced Russian agent. Wynne’s role as a salesman who works his magic on Eastern European clients makes him a good smuggler; as a Brit, he’s assumed to be a purely capitalist creature whose only concern is money. Couple that with his superb talent for schmoozing and boozing with customers, and he emerges as someone who’s neither suspicious nor a potential danger to Soviet security.
Wynne is surprised to be recruited by MI6’s Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) who, along with CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), convinces him to meet with Penkovsky, because any intel will help President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She assures him he’ll be safe. Initially, Wynne turns them down because the entire idea seems incredulous.
The Courier makes the connection that Wynne’s job of “making the clients happy” has the same thespian qualities of being a spy: He is playing a role, one that requires him to present a specific, carefully calibrated, unflappable front. Penkovsky reassures him that he’s handling the job well. As the two family men spend more time together, their guards lower and they become close friends. Cumberbatch and Ninidze convincingly conveying their newfound bond, which helps the viewer swallow the unbelievable decision that sets the second half in motion.