Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Merab Ninidze, Angus Wright, Kirill Pirogov
OUR RATING: ★★★★☆
Period spy thriller directed by Dominic Cooke. Based on a true story, The Courier (2021) follows British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. At the behest of the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative, Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), he forms a covert, dangerous partnership with Soviet Officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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Our Favorite Quotes:'Maybe we're only two people. But this is how things change.' - Oleg Penkovsky (The Courier) Click To Tweet 'There are good lies. Sometimes a lie is gift, an act of love.' - Oleg Penkovsky (The Courier) Click To Tweet
Bertrand: [to Franks] I fear a nuclear war is coming, and I want to help you prevent it.
Emily Donovan: [referring to the photo] Say hello to Colonel Oleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky. Code name Ironbark. Artillery officer during the war, decorated thirteen times. Now he’s back in Moscow, running the State Committee for Scientific Research. But that’s just a cover. He’s GRU.
Emily Donovan: I’m worried we could blow Penkovsky just by making an approach.
Dickie Franks: That’s always a risk. What would the CIA have us do instead?
Emily Donovan: I don’t know. Maybe use someone outside the embassy, who the KGB won’t suspect? Say a businessman who travels to that part of the world.
Bertrand: Do we know of someone who could fit the bill?
Sheila Wynne: How was your day?
Greville Wynne: Oh, the usual. Some empty flatteries and blatant sucking up. No, really, you should have seen me. I sold a dozen lace by throwing the easiest putt in the history of putting. I feel filthy.
Greville Wynne: Well, just think another twenty-three years of this, and then we’re off to the good life.
Sheila Wynne: [after answering the phone] Sounds like work.
Greville Wynne: No. Tell them I’m in my chair.
Sheila Wynne: [over phone] Yes, he’s just walked in.
Greville Wynne: Is it possible that you actually work at a different branch of Her Majesty’s government? Oh, my. This is unexpected. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I’m just a salesman.
Emily Donovan: Exactly. An ordinary salesman with no connection to the government.
Emily Donovan: I really can’t believe I’m actually having lunch with spies. But I couldn’t possibly. What would you want me to do?
Dickie Franks: Nothing dodgy, nothing illegal. Just what you would naturally do.
Greville Wynne: But would I be putting myself in danger? That detail, I have to know.
Dickie Franks: Greville, let me put this delicately. You’re a middle-aged businessman, who drinks a bit too much, and isn’t exactly in top shape. During the war, you were a private, never even saw combat. My point is, if this mission was the least bit dangerous, you really are the last man we’d send.
Greville Wynne: Well, thank you for putting it so delicately.
Emily Donovan: [referring to the tie clip] Make sure you wear it while you’re in Moscow.
Greville Wynne: What does this do? Shoot poison darts?
Greville Wynne: I’m not here to tell you what is best for Soviet industry. You gentlemen know that far better than I ever will. I’m here simply to open a door to the top manufacturers in the West.
Oleg Penkovsky: Now, most important question. If you want to do business in Moscow, I need to know.
Greville Wynne: Yes?
Oleg Penkovsky: Can you hold your alcohol?
Greville Wynne: It’s my one true gift.
Oleg Penkovsky: I sent word to your friend. You’re, I think the word is “amateur”.
Greville Wynne: Yes, exactly. Amateur.
Oleg Penkovsky: I’ve dreamt of this moment for a very long time. Thank you. I wish I could tell you how much this means.
Greville Wynne: I think I’d rather that you didn’t tell me.
Oleg Penkovsky: [to Greville] You’re a good amateur.
Oleg Penkovsky: I need assurances from you. If it becomes necessary, I must able to defect with my family.
Emily Donovan: Absolutely. Whenever you want.
Oleg Penkovsky: Despite what Khrushchev claims, America’s nuclear arsenal is still far superior to ours. We do not yet have first strike capacity. You can annihilate us, but we cannot annihilate you.
Emily Donovan: You’re perfect, you’re a civilian, so the KGB won’t be watching you. You’ll be in and out of Moscow anyway to setup contracts. You still won’t know any specifics. You’ll just be a courier.
Greville Wynne: Just a courier for Russian se…
Greville Wynne: My God, I can’t believe you’re bloody serious.
Emily Donovan: We’ve gone over it with Penkovsky. We believe the risk to you is minimal. And we’ll pay you.
Greville Wynne: I make my own money, thank you very much.
Greville Wynne: I have a wife and a child. Either of you have a family? Oh, no. Don’t suppose you could tell me about that. Not a lot you can tell me about, is there? Helen, James.
Dickie Franks: I can tell you we’d both put ourselves in harm’s way when necessary, and this is terribly necessary, Greville.
Greville Wynne: Then might I suggest you find someone who’s suited for it. Sorry. I really have done all I can for you.
Dickie Franks: [referring to Greville] Truly, we’ll be better off if he doesn’t do it.
Emily Donovan: He’ll do it.
Oleg Penkovsky: Maybe we’re only two people. But this is how things change.
Greville Wynne: What if I get caught?
Oleg Penkovsky: You won’t.
Greville Wynne: You don’t know that. They’d execute me, correct?
Oleg Penkovsky: Not if they thought you’re just a courier, that you took packages but didn’t know what was in them.
Oleg Penkovsky: They will not catch us. The KGB will have no idea. Listen, I’m better at this than they are.
Greville Wynne: Fine. But I’m not.
Oleg Penkovsky: Look, your work, it is only deception. Controlling your emotion. I watched you do it in Moscow, you did it tonight.
Greville Wynne: It’s really not the same thing.
Oleg Penkovsky: If we’re caught, they would definitely execute me.
Greville Wynne: Well, I’m very sorry, but that’s your choice.
Oleg Penkovsky: That is how sure I am that you can do this. I’m betting my life on it.
Greville Wynne: Sheila’s no fool. And in the past, I’ve given her reason not to trust me entirely.
Oleg Penkovsky: Then you have to lie better. There are good lies. Sometimes a lie is gift, an act of love. I’m sorry it has to be you. But, Greville, it has to be you.
Oleg Penkovsky: Everyone you meet, assume they are KGB. Waiters, hotel staff, my driver, everyone. Even if they’re not actual KGB officers, they still make reports to KGB. Every Russian is an eye of the state.
Oleg Penkovsky: And from now on, every moment you’re in Moscow, you will be selling one thing. The idea that you are an ordinary businessman, and nothing more than an ordinary businessman.
Greville Wynne: I want to be certain of one thing. I need to know that if anything happens to me, my wife and son will be provided for.
Bertrand: You have my word, and I speak for the crown.
CIA Boss: [referring to the Brits] How is it with those a**holes?
Emily Donovan: They’re good guys. I just have to make them think they’re in charge.
Sheila Wynne: You’ve been so different lately. Greville, what’s going on?
Greville Wynne: Look, I didn’t want to tell you before because I didn’t want you to be involved. It’s the business. Yeah, we’ve hit a bit of a rough patch.
Sheila Wynne: [referring to Greville] He’s exercising all the time, and he’s become so energetic in bed.
Tamara: That all sounds so awful. Poor you.
Tamara: I know Greville had an indiscretion once before, but it doesn’t mean he’s having an affair now.
Sheila Wynne: Then why is he so secretive with me? And defensive? And it’s always worse whenever he comes home from Moscow. That’s when it all started. Moscow.
Sheila Wynne: Greville, I’m asking you to stop going to Moscow. I am asking you as your wife.
Greville Wynne: Oh, I know what you’re thinking. There is no one else, I swear.
Sheila Wynne: I forgave you once. I never said I would again.
Oleg Penkovsky: One day, you will be able to tell Sheila what you have done, and she’ll be very proud of you.
Greville Wynne: That might be a bit too late.
Oleg Penkovsky: Sometimes Vera, she also struggles with my work.
Greville Wynne: Yes, but your wife married a soldier, mine married a salesman.
Oleg Penkovsky: Someday, if our work succeeds, when I feel the danger is over, then I will defect. I will bring my family to Montana.
Greville Wynne: Montana?
Oleg Penkovsky: Yeah. I’ve seen some pictures, it is beautiful, like where I grew up. Perhaps, I will become a cowboy.
Greville Wynne: You a cowboy? Oh, that I would like to see.
Emily Donovan: All I can tell you is that Ironbark wouldn’t be in the job he or she is in if he or she were an idiot. I hope we take this seriously.
Dickie Franks: That’s it Greville, we’re pulling you out.
Greville Wynne: But what about Penkovsky? I didn’t have a chance to warn him.
Dickie Franks: We’ll have to find another way to communicate with him, but you don’t need to worry about that.
Greville Wynne: No, you don’t understand. Surely he’s in danger as well. If the KGB have been looking at me, they’ll be looking at him too.
Greville Wynne: It’s time. It’s got to be.
Dickie Franks: Time for what?
Greville Wynne: Time to get him out.
Dickie Franks: Greville, we can’t get him out.
Greville Wynne: Of course you can.
Dickie Franks: I can’t get anywhere near Penkovsky now, so there’s no way to coordinate with him, or plan it out. We’d have to kidnap him and his family off the street.
Emily Donovan: It’d be a disaster.
Greville Wynne: And if they won’t let them leave, then what?
Greville Wynne: Well then, that’s it? We’re just going to abandon him and let the KGB murder him whenever they get round to it?
Dickie Franks: This is a hard truth. But if things were the other way around, Penkovsky would abandon you.
Greville Wynne: No. No, he would not.
Greville Wynne: You’re the experts on spying and tradecraft and all of that, but not Penkovsky. You’ve met him once, I know him. He would never leave me to die. And I’m not leaving him.
Dickie Franks: I’m afraid it’s not your decision.
Greville Wynne: You said the problem was, there’s no way to coordinate to let Penkovsky know about the escape plan, but there is a way. Me. I can tell him, if I go back to Moscow.
Emily Donovan: You would do that?
Greville Wynne: Yes.
Greville Wynne: I’m volunteering to bring back the best source of Soviet intelligence you got at a time where Russia and America are on the brink of nuclear war. You talk about using people, for God’s sake use me.
Emily Donovan: [to Greville] If you go back to Moscow, I’ll go with you.
Dickie Franks: At no risk to herself. She’ll have diplomatic immunity. She thinks you’re a fool!
Emily Donovan: I will do everything in my power to get both of you out of there.
Dickie Franks: But I am telling you, don’t do it.
Gribanov: [in Russian] Tell your family why we’re here.
Oleg Penkovsky: [in Russian] I am a traitor. I betrayed the revolution. I’m so sorry.
[after both Greville and Penkovsky are caught]
Emily Donovan: You were right.
Dickie Franks: You were right too. We had to try.
Sheila Wynne: Don’t tell me it’s not true. I know my husband. I know he’s been acting. Don’t tell me it’s not true.
Emily Donovan: There are things I can’t say to you. I can tell you that your husband is an incredibly brave man. And he needs you now. He needs your help, Mrs. Wynne. You see, once the Russians realize Greville is innocent, your government will be able to get him home safe. In time. But if the Russians do decide, that Greville actually is some kind of spy… I’m so sorry.
Gribanov: Mr. Wynne, you are asking me to believe that you are very, very stupid.
Greville Wynne: Oh, well, yes. I suppose in your world I am. But, look, I’m just a salesman. I want my clients to like me, so if that meant doing a favor for Penkovsky every now and then, I really didn’t see the harm.
Tamara: You don’t think there could be any truth to it, do you? What they’re saying about Greville?
Sheila Wynne: Don’t be ridiculous. How could Greville ever spy on the Soviets? He couldn’t even hide his affair from me.
Gribanov: Do you realize your country has left you here to die?
Greville Wynne: No, sir. I don’t believe that’s true.
Sheila Wynne: [as she visits Greville in prison] What you’re going through, it’s all so unfair. I’m sorry for what happened. I feel wretched for doubting you.
Greville Wynne: No, no. Couldn’t be helped. I’m really so glad you’re here. I missed you both very much.
Sheila Wynne: When you come home, I hope we can start again.
Greville Wynne: I was very foolish. I’m sorry. But I just want you to know that every moment I’ve been here, I have done nothing but think about how I’m going to get home to you. Really. I will. I will.
Bertrand: [referring to prisoner exchange] It’s a matter of who. We can’t send someone of real value. Not for Wynne.
Emily Donovan: Wynne wasn’t valuable? We’re all alive, aren’t we?
Dickie Franks: He’s not an officer, is the point.
Emily Donovan: If you let Wynne die over there, and he will die, a lot sooner than you think. No one will ever trust MI6 to protect them. Ever again.
Gribanov: [to Greville] If you think Penkovsky will protect you, you think too highly of him. He betrayed his country, his family. Why not you? It is every man for himself. Yes?
Oleg Penkovsky: I’m so sorry you’re here Greville. I hope you can forgive me for this, and for what I had to do.
Greville Wynne: What you mean, what you had to do?
Oleg Penkovsky: I held back, for as long as I could. But I have to protect my family, Greville. To save them, I had to tell the KGB the truth. All of the truth. I told them, I gave you pictures that helped Americans find missiles in Cuba. And of course I told them, you didn’t know what was in the packages I gave you.
Oleg Penkovsky: Greville, I thought I could make the world a safer place. But I failed. All this, betraying my country, my people, was for nothing.
Greville Wynne: Alex, of course I forgive you. I have to look after my family too. Easier now I know there’s not going to be a nuclear war, because Khrushchev withdrew his missiles, because of you. Because of you. You. You did it, Alex. You did it. You! You did it.!Because of you, Alex! You did it!
[real footage of Greville being interviewed after he was releases]
Reporter: Do you have any idea of what you’re going to do in the future?
Greville Wynne: Oh, I want to get back to my normal business activities as soon as I possibly can.
Reporter: Well, is that to the same company?
Greville Wynne: With my own company.
Reporter: Will you travel in East Europe again?
Greville Wynne: Oh, now, that is quite a question, which I can’t answer today.