The Cold War is back, with its agents – in the cinema. Benedict Cumberbatch is “The Courier”, in the true story of a businessman who becomes a spy.
«Dr. No, the first James Bond film, had its world premiere on October 10, 1962. That was six days before it became known that Khrushchev and Fidel Castro had agreed to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. The so-called Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the highlights of the Cold War.
Getting on the track of fear
Dominic Cooke, a British theater director with some film experience, was born four years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the Cold War and the idea that the world could end in nuclear exchanges at any time also shaped his childhood. His mother told him that people in England really believed they were going to die during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he recalls.
To get on the trail of this fear, to feel what it was like, even though we now know that the atomic world war did not take place, was one of the reasons why he wanted to make this film, according to Dominic Cooke.
Dark secret: Penkowski (Merab Ninidze, left), a Soviet officer, offers information on his country’s nuclear plans.
The most famous mole of the Cold War
“The Courier” begins in 1960, with a re-enactment of a speech by Khrushchev, which Khrushchev had actually given – and which the real intelligence service colonel Oleg Penkowski had also listened to. That Penkowski, who was then ready to inform the West step by step about the Soviet nuclear plans to prevent nuclear war.
Since the Americans were watched particularly closely in Moscow, the CIA agent (Rachel Brosnahan) and the MI6 expert (Angus Wright) work together in the film.
In London, CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) and Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) from the British secret service MI6 invite businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) to lunch. The MI6 man asks the surprised Wynne, who had no idea that his former school friend has become more than a petty civil servant, if he might not be able to expand his trading business to Moscow and the Soviet Union.
Naive businessman and agent
Dominic Cooke’s film reconstructs the real, almost unbelievable story that ended in 1964 with the exchange of the British for the Soviet agent Konon Molodi and with the execution of the real Oleg Penkowski in the Soviet Union.
«Informers, spies and the cold war»
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Want more about the Cold War? “Spy, spies and the cold war: Switzerland before the fall of the wall”, the webdoc from SRF DOK, is available here to see.
In England the story of Greville Wynne never faded from the public consciousness. The businessman, who died in 1990, published the adventurous story of his friendship with the Soviet secret service boss in 1967 and 1981.
The inconspicuous and harmless businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is supposed to contact Penkowski.
Wynne is an “everyman” who had ambitions in his youth, got married well, and now as a businessman leads a rather bored life of martini lunches and networking golf games until the clandestine “call of the fatherland” is right in the middle of him the dangers and intrigues of the Cold War in Moscow.
Bravouröser Benedict Cumberbatch
“The Courier” is an instant classic, especially in terms of atmosphere. The “spies” are drawn realistically, closer to John Le Carré’s George Smiley than to Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
Benedict Cumberbatch is great once again. He succeeds in making the fear, the pride and above all the upright emotionality of his dazzling figure tangible against the realistic background of the dusty British class society of the 1960s.
Dominic Cooke and his film team have created a convincing, paranoid charged time color in Prague, which had to serve for Moscow, and in London.
The film cleverly uses “old-fashioned” cinematic tricks from the time, such as overlapping soundtracks that begin before the scene can be seen in the picture, or figures whose faces can only gradually be seen in full – which creates tense expectations.
Theatrical release: June 3rd, 2021