The Courier Cumberbatch Spy Movie Realism Explained

The Courier Cumberbatch Spy Movie Realism Explained
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In my 2022 Oscar breakdown (yes, I had an Oscar movie breakdown, why do you ask) video walkthrough I discussed how I thought that it was nigh on impossible for Kristen Stewart and Benedict Cumberbatch to not win best actor Oscars for their roles in Spencer and The Power of the Dog, respectively. And since then I’ve been going back through their movies and re-watching some of their greats. Stewarts’ Personal Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria and Cafe Society, being three of my favorites of hers. (Yes, she’s made a LOT of awful movies, but when she hits, she really hits.) And similarly, I’ve gone back through Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes episodes (which are basically mini-movies each…), The Mauratanian, and a few others. (No, no, I am not a fan of his Marvel films, mainly because I’m not a fan of ANY Marvel films. Sorry.) Which, is what brought me to The Courier… which, I had never seen before. I recently watched Munich: The Edge of War and, from a realistic spy movie perspective, really enjoyed it. Too few movies take on the realistic boredom of spying, and still make it interesting. But that was what I loved both about Munich: The Edge of War and The Courier. The Courier Cumberbatch Spy Movie Realism Explained.

Sure, this movie isn’t going to be for everyone – but for those of you that really enjoy realistic spy stories that are based on fact… this will be a fantastic watch.

The Courier Overview

When Oleg Penkovsky (played by Merab Ninidze) sends proof to America via the American embassy that Russia had dispatched nuclear warheads to within striking distance of the American mainland, it sets of a whirlwind of chaos and action throughout the spy and diplomatic arenas. And it began with the CIA reaching out to their British partners to extend feelers to Moscow in order to make contact with Oleg, and see what he knows. Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) of the CIA watches as her British compatriots reach out to Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) in order to rope in the extraordinarily boring business man for their plan. The thought was to have the two men meet once, exchange the information, and end the clandestine mission for Wynne. But when the information was too rich, and the opportunities to great to stop, the meetings continue, and the information on the details of the Cuban missiles continues to flow. With Wynne’s home life stressed to breaking, and the mission on the cusp of discovery, the film brilliantly shows what real nail biting situations actually look like. You can keep your Bourne roof jumps, thank you very much. Eventually the two are found out, and imprisoned, left without food, and tortured.

Walk Me Through the Ending of The Courier and Explain Please

The most important detail to understand is just how much Penkovsky and Greville came to care for one another. They were truly good friends, and cared deeply for each other. So when the CIA and MI6 decided to leave Penkovsky out to dry, it was Greville that put his life on the line, one last time, to attempt to get Penkovsky out of Russia. And when they were both imprisoned, with nigh on zero hope of getting out alive, Greville kept his mouth shut, and refused any talking points beyond the cover story that he didn’t know what was in the packages given to him. Now, when Greville’s wife was finally allowed to visit, six months later, he learned that Khrushchev had pulled the missiles out of Cuba. This is a critical detail that he has learned. Why? Because it proved that Penkovsky, single-handedly, saved the west, and succeeded in his mission to stand down a serious nuclear threat to the world. And it is this news the is the triumph of the movie… when Greville let’s Penkovsky know the effect he had on the world’s safety, it made all of it worth while. So, while his own country considered him a traitor, he was a hero to the entire world.

Eventually, Greville was released from his Russian internment facility, in exchange for the Russian spy Konon Molody. Greville made his way back to England and finally was able to return to his boring business life as a national hero. The film continues to document the unfortunate fact that Oleg Penkovsky was executed for his crimes to Russia.

Was The Courier A True Story?

It would appear, that the British agent, Dickie Franks was based on a real person, but Emily Donovan, the up and coming CIA agent? She was a composite of a number of different real people that inspired her character. Among them was Janet Chisholm, who apparently, was the wife of a British officer stationed in Moscow, and served as a handler for Penkovsky. Better yet, the MI6 didn’t actually immediately turn over the intel they received from Penkovsky. But when they finally came around to it, the intel changed the course of world events. But it was the intel provided by Penkovsky, that the British, and American’s estimation of the number of Soviet missiles was way higher than actuality… that the Russians were not actually on a good war footing, and it was this detail that allowed Kennedy to authoritatively take control of the Cuban missile crisis.

What about Penkovsky? Yes, he was arrested in 1962… as was Wynne. And the capture actually went down very similarly to how it was depicted in the movie. In the movie, Penkovsky was found guilty of treason, and was executed via firing squad. And while this is generally how the story was thought to have ended, there are quite a lot of questions here. Wynne’s own memoirs note that Penkovsky actually committed suicide. Why would he write that if it weren’t true? Or, in the non-fiction retelling, “Spies: The Secret Agents Who Changed the Course of History” it alleges that Penkovsky was burnt alive. This was a method of execution reserved for the very worst of the Soviet Union’s traitors. So, which was it? Firing squad? Suicide? Or pyre? Pouring over a number of different resources, books, and accounts of the event, it seems like most authorities on the topic seem to believe that Penkovsky actually committed suicide.

But what about Wynne? Well, after spending a solid year and a half in horrible Soviet prison, it took a pretty significant toll on his body and mental health. This was well documented in the film – but what wasn’t, was the fact that Wynne loved to embellish his stories of heroism. He regularly fabricated details about his time as a spy. Seeing as though the guy suffered on behalf of the world, I think we’ll forgive him the occasional embellishment. (The most significant of which that he was personally thanked by JFK in Washington D.C. – yeah, no.) Regardless, it is an amazing story – if atypical to the normal spy movies that elevate action and artifice over realism. Yes, the movie was uneven, and really quite sad… the fact that it hewed so closely to reality means we can cut the film all kinds of slack on this front. Or should anyway… seeing as though life is bumpy, uneven, and doesn’t play out perfectly.

I personally liked the story – enjoyed the idea of the CIA and MI6 wandering into this random guys’ life, and turned it upside down with a single request. And I enjoyed it even more that he accepted. Not only was he frightened of his responsibilities, but he was mortified. EVEN STILL, he performed perfectly, and saved the world with his altruism and self sacrifice. But it was ultimately the friendship that took center stage for me. The bond that leaped past cultures and internationally boundary lines.

Edited by: CY