Although this Benedict Cumberbatch led period piece is impressive when you consider the true story it tells, it isn’t what makes it so excellent. Telling the story of real life amateur spy Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) and how he was recruited to ferry Russian secrets to the west with the help of Soviet whistleblower Oleg Penkovsky (a perfect Merab Ninidze) and the village of spies helping him learn the tricks of the trade. The Courier doesn’t just shoot for a straight drama, it plays with the inherent comedy of Greville’s situation and how a man with his charm and abundant self confidence can handle all the seriousness a plot of this magnitude required. It’s in this bemused state that director Dominic Cooke crafts Greville and Oleg’s unexpected but important friendship and it is one that gives much to his film.
While at first glance, this is a classic Cold War drama, a film about the impending doom felt by all involved as two super powers inch slowly towards the big red button of nuclear war, really The Courier jumps between an emotional family drama as two men do what’s necessary to save their families, to a buddy comedy where more often than not two men get drunk and get away with it. Abel Korzeniowski’s masterful score changes slowly as Greville goes from lovable buffoon to invested spy while always playing to the Russian feel of Cooke’s visuals. It is the fact that the whole experience makes you feel so off kilter while never feeling off tonally that makes things work. Both Ninidze and Cumberbatch are incredible and a punishing turn by Jessie Buckley gives the ending serious weight to make the whole experience a thrill from beginning to end.