An Overlooked Hero
Tripwire’s contributing writer Simon Kennedy takes a look at The Courier starring Benedict Cumberbatch and on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray now…
Director: Dominic Cooke
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Merab Ninidze, Jessie Buckley
It is often said that the Second World War is considered the last ‘Good’ war. Recently historical argument has been focused on the acts of bravery of those in the secret or clandestine services during The Cold War, as the last actual ‘Good’ war. The rationale is clear enough. People in the Western world and beyond helped millions oppressed by a brutal dictatorship, The Soviet Union and its entities to freedom. Whether through escape, the stopping of malicious actions or to the polices that halted nuclear war. These actions saved lives and the planet. Now I don’t fully agree with a lot of this logic. But that this was the last ‘Good’ or ‘Just’ war is Indeed an interesting argument and one that I do agree some deserve recognition for fighting. For those who traded secrets and helped defectors, are heroes of the highest order and often overlooked. The Courier, from theatre actor, director and a regular collaborator with Benedict Cumberbatch, film director Dominic Cooke and writer Tom O’Connor is an examination of just one of the thousands who did just this.
Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) is an unassuming salesman, who floats around the business elites in Europe in the 1960s and makes deals for a variety of services. He has come into the radar of the secret services for they are needing a contact with Oleg Penkovsky (codenamed Ironbark) (Merab Ninidze). He is a high-profile informant, who wants to offer secrets that could benefit the cause for Soviet nuclear disarmament. This is the 60s and just as the Cuban missile crisis is boiling over Penkovsky is important to both sides and to the Soviets, he must not be seen directly contacting foreign nationals without a valid reason. This reason is given by his work with the trade attaché office and the role of Wynne as a foreign businessman bringing money (much valued foreign exchange) into the country. So far, so good. However, as things develop deeper and the nuclear threat grows, Penkovsky and Wynne are drawn into ever more riskier actions.
The story all checks out. Wynne was recruited to the service to liaise with Penkovsky. But I will note that Wynne later suggested he was recruited earlier than the film suggests, and this appears a little fanciful on his part. Penkovsky did share secrets and was deeply exposed as threat and counter threat was actioned by the American and Soviet sides. The rest ended up in the history books and at the end of the film. I will not divulge as spoilers do spoil. But I will say this. Wynne appears to have been a lot different in real life to the portrayal by Cumberbatch. One is playing for attention and the other, it feels for awards. The narrative arch of the piece indulges a broad journey of a role and this suits Cumberbatch perfectly. He doesn’t quite pull it off mind but it is an actors role, filled with meat and meaning. An arch. Ninidze Penkovsky is a more tender man. Contemplative and compassionate. His performance is richer for a character role. Less bells and whistle of performance, more emotion and empathy.
The disc has the film in a standard 1080 p transfer. This serves it moderately well and makes it look like a 1970s thriller but with less decayed paint and smoke-stained rooms and more production designer obsession over the right shade of paint for the 60s. It also serves the Moscow settings in a harsh way. The light on the snow or exterior scenes bleaches the frame. Then to the extras, which amount to two. An average making of, that sees a love in and a slight exploration of the history of the story but little more. The commentary however, from director Cooke is excellent. He blends the notes of a director and a writer with the eye of an actor. It does sometimes flops around a little when he talks a bit too long about things but overall, it’s the best thing on the disc.
The Courier Is Out On DVD and Blu-Ray 1 Nov
Here’s the film’s trailer too
An Overlooked Hero Tripwire’s contributing writer Simon Kennedy takes a look at The Courier starring Benedict Cumberbatch and on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray now… The Courier Director: Dominic Cooke Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Merab Ninidze, Jessie Buckley It is often said that the Second World War is considered the last ‘Good’ war. Recently historical
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