The Courier: A Cold War Spy Thriller

Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan in THE COURIER. Photo Credit: Liam Daniel. Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

The Courier, formerly titled Ironbark, is a Cold War era spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan.

I love a good spy thriller and The Courier is no exception.  My only regret is that I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the film during Sundance in 2020.  Screening conflicts mean having to choose between films and I also wasn’t feeling well for most of the festival.  I can certainly say that watching films at home are not the same.  Roadside Attractions press screeners are not made available through a TV-based app but thankfully, this film is the rare one in which there was zero video lag.  Watching a film on TV via HDMI cable from my laptop always comes with a risk these days.  Studios have had a year to come up with the technology but I digress.

This film tells the story of British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Wynne gets recruited by CIA operative Emily (Rachel Brosnahan) and MI-6.  Before you know it, he’s working together with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze).  This is going on while the Cuban Missle Crisis is playing out during the early 1960s.  If Penkovsky doesn’t provide the information Wynne needs, all hell could possibly break lose.  It’s the Cold War so anything can and might happen.

If you’ve watched The Americans, you know that there’s a history of Russian spies in the United States.  Or if you’ve seen Thirteen Days (for all of the fiction in the film), you certainly know how tense things were at the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It goes without saying that this film is equally tense.  Again, this is the type of spy thriller I wish I could experience on the big screen. But without the vaccine/being fully immune, I’m not about to subject myself to almost two hours in a movie theater.  Anyway, screenwriter Tom O’Connor started reading about the history of Russian American espionage because of the 2016 election.  The rest is history.

Wynne wrote a memoir but even this book cannot be fully reliable in terms of the film.  Simply put, there is so much misinformation out there because a lot of the operation is classified.  Knowing this, Tom O’Connor makes do with what’s available at hand.  Sure, some scenes are probably invented solely for the film but there is not much else filmmakers can do with a classified operation.  Because Wynne is only a married businessman, it’s not your typical James Bond spy film.  This is okay because it doesn’t need to be a Bond film.  It’s funny –you hear British spy movie and your brain automatically thinks James Bond!

Jessie Buckley stars as Wynne’s first wife, Sheila.  There’s a lot here that is made up for the screen–again, because of the information available.  What we do know is that Sheila divorces Wynne shortly after his prison release.  Buckley doesn’t have much to work with because Sheila drops off the grid following their divorce.

Because of the information available, Brosnahan’s CIA operative is fictional.  She is a composite of the actual operatives.  Let’s face it, they were almost certainly men).  I applaud the filmmakers for changing things up.  This might not be historically accurate but some aspects of this film are probably fictional.  This doesn’t make it any less tense of a spy thriller.  Wynne might be the guy to get the information but Emily is driving the plot.  What is it that they say?  Behind every man is a strong woman!  Something like that?

The Courier might be Benedict Cumberbatch’s film but Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley also turn in solid performances, too.  Thankfully, Trump is out of office because the past four years certainly could have made this kind of story very likely to happen again.  It feels like it was only yesterday when he was threatening war against North Korea on Twitter of all places!

DIRECTOR:  Dominic Cooke
CAST:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions will open The Courier on March 19, 2021.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.