Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions have released the trailer for The Courier, opening in theaters on March 19. The film was directed Dominic Cooke from a script by Tom O’Connor. You can watch the trailer using the player below!
The Courier is a true-life spy thriller, the story of an unassuming British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history.
At the behest of the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative (Rachel Brosnahan), he forms a covert, dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) in an effort to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.
On 16, October 1962, President John F Kennedy was handed high-altitude photographs taken from U-2 planes flying over Cuba that showed Soviet soldiers setting up nuclear-armed missiles on the island. The United States had been tipped-off that the Soviet Union was putting nuclear warheads on the Caribbean Island. The Cuban Missile Crisis saw the world on the brink of nuclear war.
In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, scriptwriter Tom O’Connor was very curious about the history of Russian American espionage. “I started reading history books,” says O’Connor. “Oleg Penkovsky, played by Merab Ninidze in the movie, is a legendary source that the Americans had in the Soviet Union. One line of one book said Oleg Penkovsky’s contact was a British civilian called Greville Wynne. At that point, my screenwriter cap popped on.”
O’Connor found out as much as he could about Wynne and Penkovsky. Their relationship is mentioned in several books but only in fragments.“There’s enough to understand the basics,” states O’Connor.
“A lot of the events were and remain classified, and so sometimes, finding out what exactly happened was a challenge because there is active misinformation being put out by both sides. People don’t necessarily want everything on-the-record.”
Also, Wynne had written an autobiography in 1967 titled, The Man From Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky. However, O’Connor was aware that the reliability of this book had been questioned: “I read a few people who did a point-by-point discrediting of the things that Wynne claimed happened arguing that they couldn’t possibly be real.”
Piecing the story together from various sources, O’Connor wrote the draft on spec and sent it out to production companies. It landed on the desk of 42’s Ben Pugh, who immediately knew he wanted 42 to produce the film.
“I wanted to make a movie like this for a long time,” says Pugh.
“I love that period. I loved the idea of an everyday guy in the centre of that world with all these thrilling elements and this massive global political backdrop while it’s about him and his family, and he ends up trying to save the world.”
Pugh pitched 42 as the perfect home for the script to O’Connor. Once 42 became producers on the project, Pugh sent the script to Dominic Cooke, who had been Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the Royal Court Theatre 2006-2009, and directed On Chesil Beach, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017.
“The script jumped out at me,” says Cooke. “It was such a well-written and gripping piece about a brilliant story that I didn’t know much about.”
As he read the script, Cooke imagined Cumberbatch playing Wynne. They had worked together several times in the theatre and BBC TV’s The Hollow Crown, based on Shakespeare’s history plays, in which Cumberbatch played Richard III. O’Connor and Pugh also hoped that Cooke would suggest the Oscar- nominated actor.
Pugh says, “When Dominic came on board he did a little pass of the script with Tom and then it went straight to Benedict.”
“Cooke came to meet me about the part and the project. Obviously, I was very keen to work with him again,” says Cumberbatch, who was fascinated by Wynne. “I was intrigued by the arc the character went on. As our discussions continued, I said I’d love to augment the process by helping to produce it with SunnyMarch alongside my producing partner Adam Ackland.”
Ben Browning, President of Production and Acquisitions at FilmNation, says, “We do many films in this space, working with high-end talent that tends to have a reach with a global audience. We worked with the writer Tom on a movie that ultimately we didn’t make; we’d worked with Benedict on The Imitation Game and I knew Dominic’s work from the theatre, and I enjoyed his first film.”
FilmNation took the packaged film to Cannes in 2018, where it was met with enthusiasm. “The reception was very healthy because it’s a spy film that felt like it had something new and timely to say,” says Browning. “There’s a long history of successful great Cold War thrillers, the difference here is that rather than being about inscrutable people with inscrutable motives it has a clear emotional heart, and it’s essentially about a relationship between two men who did something extraordinary.”