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  • Jared Huizenga

‘The Courier’ Gets An A (and I Get an F in History)

My cousins and I like to joke about how bad each of is at anything beyond basic math. I always said math wasn’t my best subject in school.

As it turns out, history might not be my strong suit, either.

For instance, despite taking four semesters of college history and multiple high school classes, I had absolutely no idea that Greville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky – the central figures in the new Cold War era thriller ‘The Courier’ – were real people until the postscripts further detailing their actions and later lives showed up at the end of the film.

Turns out they were pretty important.


Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Courier.’ (Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.)


In ‘The Courier’ Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Wynne, a British businessman whose travels often take him to the Soviet Union, and Merab Ninidze stars as Penkovsky, a high-ranking Soviet official with secrets he’s willing to share.

Rumors swirl of a Soviet official’s willingness to provide intel to the west because he believes Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wants nothing more than to go to war with the United States. Believing that both CIA and MI6 agents were a) too valuable and b) too likely to be made, American agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) and her British counterpart, Dickie Franks (Angus Wright), elect to recruit an unassuming civilian instead.

Enter, Greville Wynne.

Despite being only a so-so family man, Donovan and Franks convince a very hesitant Wynne to take the assignment by telling him that if Khrushchev gets his way and the Soviets get to Cuba, he won’t have a family to sort of provide for any more.

This decision puts Wynne and Penkovsky in a working relationship that neither feels entirely safe in, but gets important information into hands that could help prevent nuclear war.


Benedict Cumberbatch, Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan in ‘The Courier.’ (Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.)


Despite being a moron when it comes to U.S. and/or world history, I’m a sucker for historical dramas – particularly thrillers (probably because unless I’m specifically told they’re based on real events, I think they’re just really good fiction) – and ‘The Courier’ is no exception.

Given the fact that we’re all alive and I have to look up the proper spelling for ‘Gulag’ every time I need to use it, the Soviets didn’t blow up the U.S. or vice versa. So, we know that Wynne and Penkovsky probably did something positive. That, however, doesn’t take away from the tension throughout. You know there’s almost no chance things won’t go south for the duo, but you don’t know when and to what extent. The evolution of the two, from hesitant and untrusting to courteous yet cold to compassionate and understanding, adds depth to not only the characters, but the aforementioned tension.

Director Dominic Cooke and writer Tom O’Connor deserve credit for crafting a story that, despite the ending being known (in the grand scheme of society, if not these two people), keeps you engaged and invested.


Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Courier.’ (Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.)


But most of the credit belongs with Cumberbatch and Ninidze. The latter, who I’m not at all familiar with, brings humanity to the role as a man that wants to do the right thing, even if it means doing the “wrong” thing for his family and country. And Cumberbatch, who I view as always solid and rarely spectacular, brings just that to his role – the perfect combination for the unassuming guy who knows what he’s doing without actually knowing what he’s doing.

I’m sure there’s someone out there that will be able to poke holes in this story, but if you’re clueless about actual history and a sucker for theatrical history, I think you’ll really like ‘The Courier.’

★★★★ of ★★★★★

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