Film Review: The Courier

STUDIO: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions | DIRECTOR: Dominic Cooke | CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley
RELEASE DATE: March 19, 2021
SPECS:PG-13 | 111 min. | Thriller drama

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

A little bit Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and a little bit Bridge of Spies, The Courier is a taut, suspenseful drama that brings to life a lesser known but enthralling piece of world history.

Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) is an ordinary 1960’s British businessman, husband and father. He’s the last person you would suspect as a spy. That is precisely why MI-6 decides to recruit him to travel to Russia as an envoy under the cover of commerce to meet with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze, Jupiter’s Moon) and covertly introduce him to CIA operative Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). Penkovsky is disillusioned by the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev and looking to smuggle vital Russian intelligence to the West in an effort to deescalate the Cuban missile crisis. Penkovsky begins to feel a bond of trust with Wynne and insists he be the one to continue to serve as his courier. Over the next two years Penkosky and Wynne develop a close friendship that threatens not only their mission but also their lives.

Handsomely directed by Dominic Cooke (On Chesil Beach) from Tom O’Connor’s (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) intelligent and suspenseful script, this UK production smartly sticks closely to the real story that inspired it. After all, when there’s enough engaging twists and turns in the truth, there’s no need for added fictionalization. As tensions mount in the Caribbean Sea, the stakes for Penkovsky and Wynne’s efforts to succeed increase and Cooke does a great job pacing those dramatic moments, while also providing quieter scenes so the audience can intimately connect to the characters.

It’s the connection between Penkovsky and Wynne that is the ultimate key to making the film work and Cumberbatch and Ninidze are excellent together. They both give rich, nuanced performances that leave no doubt that these men not only care about each other, but would risk their lives and their families’ futures for a call to service for the greater good.

Additional kudos to the filmmakers for breaking up the on screen testosterone and featuring a woman as the CIA agent, who is a composite character. Brosnahan puts in a serviceable performance, and though she was very credible in the recent crime drama I’m Your Woman, her dramatic range isn’t as believable in this instance and she comes across a bit out of place in this story.

Overall, The Courier offers everything you would want in a Cold War spy thriller.

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at