Wednesday, 23 March 2022

The Courier - 2021 film review

Benedict Cumberbatch is one of my favourite contemporary actors. He seems to enhance any TV drama or film that he appears in. The Courier, a new spy film, is a good example. It's based on a true story that I recall distantly from my early childhood, and his performance makes the most of a competent script by Tom O'Connor (not the Scouse comedian, for sure). The director is Dominic Cooke, who was also responsible for the low-key but interesting On Chesil Beach, which I watched on a plane a few years ago.

Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne, a British businessman who is persuaded by MI6 (represented by Angus Wright, playing Dickie Franks) and the CIA (Rachel Brosnahan plays Helen Talbot) to assist with a plan to find out about the Soviet nuclear plans with the help of Oleg Penkovsky, a senior official who is contemplating defection.

From what I have read of Wynne, he was a bit of a fantasist, certainly in later life, but he also had plenty of courage, risking his life to assist the security services. If you're not familiar with the story, I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say that this is a good spy yarn, lifted out of the common run by Cumberbatch's performance. Jessie Buckley is also very good as Wynne's long-suffering wife Sheila. There's a smallish part for the ever-reliable Anton Lesser.

Recent events in the Ukraine have provided depressing evidence that although the Cold War may be long over, international tensions remain and are becoming acute. The events explored in The Courier serve as a reminder of the tragedies that can occur when political vanity and aggression get out of hand. It's definitely worth watching.


Liz Gilbey said...

I also remember press coverage of the Greville Wynne affair, which for some reasons stayed in my head since childhood, and how ill he looked when he returned from prison. For the prison scenes filming was suspended for some weeks as Cumberbatch lost 10kg very quickly (and over Christmas!) for authenticity.
Interestingly, as an actor always thorough in his homework, he noticed that in media coverage Wynne always wore the same tie. The actor tracked it down to a university engineering club Wynne had never attended and a club he had never belonged to. All adding to case history, still clouded, as to whether the man was a fantasist or preferred to remain safe behind a false image; the truth of most of his claims about his spying remains unclear.
Highly esteemed theatre director Dominic Cooke also directed Cumberbatch as Richard III in the BBC Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown. It is a good film, beautifully made, and well worth a look.

Martin Edwards said...

I'll take a look when I get a moment, Liz. Thanks.