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March 19, 2021

At the Movies: In ‘The Courier,' Cumberbatch is an everyman spy

AP Film Writer

The new Cold War film “ The Courier ” about a Soviet whistleblower and the British businessman who helped transport information to Western intelligence agencies is both based on real events and people and also is very much the product of a screenwriter's imagination. That's not to criticize the film written by Tom O'Connor (“The Hitman's Bodyguard”) and directed by Dominic Cooke (“On Chesil Beach”). It's simply to say that it is more historical fiction than it is history. The whole truth of this extraordinary chapter has likely died with the principal characters and/or been obscured and distorted by the people who write these things down.

What we know is that there was indeed a Soviet official named Oleg Penkovsky, played in the film by Georgian actor Merab Ninidze, who was an essential source for the Americans during the Cold War and the leadup to the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of Penkovsky's contacts was a British civilian named Greville Wynne, who wrote an autobiography about his experiences. Even the reliability of that account has been questioned. Still, it provided an intriguing jumping off point for O'Connor to write a classic espionage thriller that opens in select theaters and on demand Friday.

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