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Greater Love Has No Man: Benedict Cumberbatch's 'The Courier'

Author: Kristina Cooper

Picture: Nuala Clarke, Lionsgate

Greater Love Has No Man: Benedict Cumberbatch's 'The Courier'

Spy thriller The Courier, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is a fascinating tale, based on a true story, showing how individuals can change the course of history, says Kristina Cooper.

I enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch’s latest film, The Courier, on many levels. It is a spy thriller set in the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War, so real Le Carre country, with many nail biting moments. Yet it is also much deeper than this, with a great script by Tom O’Connor, looking at the nature of friendship, sacrifice and the tension of balancing the needs of family and country.

The film is based on true events and charts the story of an ordinary, gin-swilling, middle England businessman, Greville Wynne  sensitively played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who finds himself getting roped into becoming a courier for MI6 because of his business trips behind the Iron Curtain.

A Deepening Friendship

The film portrays well the atmosphere at the time, and the underlying threat of nuclear war with its ominous 4 minute warning, which pervades the nation’s consciousness and frightens Wynne into co-operating with the British Secret Service, when he is first approached by an old school friend. 

The heart of the film, however, is the deepening friendship between Wynne and his contact, a high ranking intelligence officer, Oleg Penkovsky, played by Georgian actor Merab Ninidze. In his company, Wynne attends a ballet for the first time. They meet each other’s families and get to care for each other as human beings rather than simply as political assets.

As the net eventually closes in on Penkovsky, M16 and the CIA are prepared to cut their losses and abandon him, but Wynne is determined to take a great risk to help his friend, for which he pays a huge price.

Watch a trailer for The Courier here:

Courage And Endurance

In the beginning, Wynne is shown as not at all a courageous or noble person. He has a drink problem and an undistinguished war record.

This is contrasted with Penkovsky, a decorated war hero, and colonel, who is portrayed as an idealist prepared to sacrifice loyalty to his country for world peace.

Penkovsky’s friendship with Wynne, however,  has a refining influence on him.  We see this in subtle ways – Wynne’s tears at a performance of Swan Lake, which beautifully counter points what they are going through, and Wynne’s amazing courage and endurance at the end.  

Bringing An Important Story To Light

If Wynne grows in courage, the film shows the corrosive nature of living a life of deception and lies. He is not allowed to tell his wife (played by Jesse Buckley) what he is doing and she suspects the worst, as he had had an affair in the past.

Penkovsky’s actions in the film are seen as totally altruistic. In real life, probably more grubby motives also might have played a part but, whatever his reasons, there is no denying that the intelligence Penkovsky provided the West was a huge factor in stopping the Cuban Missile Crisis from escalating into a Third World War.

This film helps to bring this forgotten but important story to light. And what a fascinating tale it is. Definitely well worth watching and a reminder of the power of individuals, however apparently weak, to change history.  

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