“I’m sorry it has to be you. But Greville, it has to be you.”Oleg Penkovsky
A cold war spy thriller that itself feels like a throwback to the likes of Le Carré, The Courier succeeds because it trusts the slow burn tension of its script to hold the audience’s attention without the need for superfluous action. Cumberbatch is excellent as the businessman Greville Wynne, recruited by MI6 to help infiltrate the Soviet nuclear programme, his superficial salesman’s charm developing into a genuine and more relatable affection for GRU defector Oleg Penkovsky. Much of the tension arises from the fact Wynne is not some suave superspy but an amateur who knows he is woefully out of his depth. The Courier unfolds against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and trusts the audience to be sufficiently aware of its importance whilst the film’s focus is more personal — its overarching theme is the personal cost of conflicting loyalties. It is peppered with thoughtful visual choices like the two trips to the ballet — in the first, during Greville’s first, nerve-wracking introduction to Moscow, we never see the stage but only see Greville and Penkovsky’s faces in the darkened theatre; in the second, we see Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake performed to symbolise Penkovsky’s contemplation of his imminent abandonment of his homeland.