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‘The Courier ‘ tells another real-life Cold War tale

Dan Webster

Above: Benedict Cumberbatch stars in "The Courier." (Photo: Lionsgate)

While the world is now facing a variety of important challenges, not the least of which involves the ongoing fight against COVID-19, movie producers are still fighting the Cold War.

You remember your 20th-century history, right? The Cold War? That period following World War II when the world was threatened by all-out nuclear war? When children at school were trained to crawl under their desks in case of nuclear attack?

Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film “Bridge of Spies” tackled the topic, winning Mark Rylance a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the process. And now we have “The Courier,” which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the real-life British businessman Greville Wynne who in 1960 was recruited as an international spy.

In short, Wynne was tasked by Britain’s intelligence service, MI6, to go to Moscow and learn what he could about what the Russians were up to. Wynne ended up befriending Oleg Penkivsky (played by Georgian-born actor Merab Ninidze), and the relationship ended up earning the West a huge batch of valuable information.

Working from a screenplay by Tom O’Connor, director Dominic Cooke has fashioned a film about Wynne that – despite its John le Carré-type setting – is what New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis describes as “essentially the story of an extraordinary male friendship.”

Others critics are a bit more effusive. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “As the pressures on Wynne increase, and the missions become more dangerous, the spectacle of this average man trying to stay safe becomes riveting.”

But maybe the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday gave the best response. “ ‘The Courier’ isn't a great movie,” she wrote, “but it's a good one. And right now, that's enough.”

By the way, as this article in the Smithsonian Magazine explains, Wynne’s post-spy career included more than a few exaggerations – if not outright lies – about his exploits.

In any event, the movie version of Wynne’s exploits opens today at AMC River Park Square. A streaming date has yet to be announced.

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