‘The Courier’ Retells True Story of Spy Caper During the Cuban Missile Crisis

James Fozard


Directed by Dominic Cooke, Written by Tom O'Connor. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley. Liongsgate and Roaddside Attractions, 111 minutes, PG-13.


The Courier is a fast-moving cinematic reenactment of a true spy story set in the time leading up to and following the Cuban Missile Crisis. The courier,  Greyville Wynn (played by Benedict Cmberbatch), is a British businessman recruited by the British MI-6 and a CIA operative (Ratchel Brosnahan) to ferry spy cinemas and prints from Russia to Great Britain. His cover is facilitating business relations between Russian and British businesses for an international trade commission.


The Russian spy supplying the materials is Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), currently serving in the Russian Politburo then chaired by Nikita Kruschev.  His motive was an effort to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.


During several episodes in which he receives spy materials, the courier and the Russian became friends --  each visiting the other’s home and families, and attending performances of the Russian Ballet in Moscow.  Their frequent meetings became the basis for the detection of the spying by the KGB. Penkovsky is poisoned and during his hospitalization, the stolen materials are discovered in his home. And the courier,  on his last trip home from Moscow, is arrested by Russian police before his flight left for London. 



The well-written, poignant drama includes the famous speech, “We will bury you” by  Kruschev, the memorable speech by President Kennedy on the Cuban missile build-up, and several dramatic meetings between British intelligence and the CIA regarding  the merits of using the businessman as the courier. The cinematography and music are quite effective in capturing the settings and transfers of the spy materials and clandestine meetings of the traitor and courier. Supporting roles – especially those of the families of the protagonists -- are convincing and moving.


For older viewers like myself who lived through that period, the film is a powerful reminder of the strong public concern about a build-up to war and provides new information about the role of the stolen documents in locating the actual locations of the missile sites.  For younger viewers, it provides a vivid picture of important events in our recent history.



Author Bio:

James Fozard is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine

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Lionsgate / Roadside Attractions
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