Review: ‘The Courier’ Starring Benedict Cumberbatch

The Courier
Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Courier’ (Photo Credit: Liam Daniel / Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

The CIA, KGB, MI6, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a salesman take on key roles in the dramatic film, The Courier, based on true events. The film begins in 1960 in London and focuses on British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a hard-drinking, people-pleasing family man who’s looking to broaden his business out of the country. Wynne meets with a friend, Dickie Franks (Angus Wright), and his American associate, Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), for lunch and is surprised when he discovers that Franks is really with MI6 and Donovan is with the CIA.

The surprises don’t stop there. It turns out Franks and Donovan want to recruit Wynne to work for them to make contact with a Soviet Officer and WWII hero, Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), who fears Nikita Khrushchev and is looking to prevent a nuclear war with the United States. “I’m just a salesman,” declares Wynne. “Exactly. You’re a civilian so the KGB won’t be watching,” replies Donovan.

Reluctant but fully aware of the political tensions between Russia and the United States, Wynne finally agrees to travel to the Soviet Union and make contact with Penkovsky.

By claiming he’s interested in opening doors to the Soviet Union to the top manufacturers in the West, Wynne’s able to speak with Penkovsky in a public meeting. Later, they eat lunch and feign talking business. That night after attending the opera, Wynne is walking back to his hotel when he’s informed by Penkovsky that he needs to assume everyone he meets is a KGB agent and to never bring up anything secret or covert; he should always let Penkovsky bring it up first.

Nonchalantly, the Soviet officer hands Wynne something. Upon his return to London, Wynne turns the item over to Donovan and Franks. It confirms Penkovsky wants to betray his country and slip secret government documents to MI6 and the CIA to try to prevent nuclear war. His only demand is that Wynne stays on board as the courier.

Based on a true story, The Courier is a stylish, smart, and suspenseful Cold War spy thriller that tells an incredible and important part of world history and is highlighted by a magnificent performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. The Courier‘s an intelligent and well-crafted film that brings back the days when the Cold War was at its most intense and the U.S. and Russia were on the brink of nuclear war.

Cumberbatch delivers one of his best performances as Wynne, a hard-working businessman who loves his family and only wants to provide for them when he ends up being recruited to be not just a courier but a spy. Cumberbatch shows how Wynne is truly a fish out of water in the espionage world but quickly becomes one of the best spies in history. He captures Wynne’s belief in what he’s doing for his country and the world while keeping him very much human, subtly displaying his real fear of getting caught and being executed.

Merab Ninidze is perfect in his performance as Oleg Penkovsky, a high-ranking Soviet officer who fears his country’s ruler – Khrushchev – will lead his country to nuclear war and is desperate to do whatever he can to avoid it. Ninidze and Cumberbatch have wonderful chemistry as two men who start out as covert partners and quickly become close friends who trust each other with their lives.

The production design and look of the film are first-rate, capturing and bringing the early 1960s back to life on the screen while realistically portraying the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The costumes, automobiles, planes, and buildings all look extremely authentic.

With an excellent performance by Cumberbatch, a fascinating true story, and top-notch sets, The Courier is a highly effective and engaging spy thriller.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for smoking throughout, partial nudity, brief strong language, and violence

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Release Date: March 19, 2021

Directed By: Dominic Cooke

Studio: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions