Greville Wynne

Greville Wynne

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Greville Wynne was born in 1919. After graduating from Nottingham University he became an electrical engineer. He was recruited by MI5 during the Second World War.

After the war he became a businessman selling electrical equipment. As he often travelled to Eastern Europe he was asked to join MI6. In 1959 he played an important role in helping a Russian intelligence officer, Major Kuznov, to defect to the West.

In 1961, Oleg Penkovsky, deputy head of the foreign department of the Coordination of Scientific Research, told a British diplomat that he wished to sell Soviet secrets. Wynne was chosen as Penkovsky's British contact. In April 1961 Penkovsky began passing information about Soviet missile developments, nuclear plans, locations of military headquarters and the identities of KGB officers. This included evidence that Nikita Khrushchev had been making false claims about the number of nuclear missiles in the Soviet Union. Over a period of 14 months Penkovsky passed photographs of 5,000 secret papers to the CIA and MI6.

Penkovsky, described by one intelligence officer as the "best spy in history", was considered so important that a meeting was arranged between him and Sir Dick White, head of MI6.

The Soviet Union had two double agents, William Whalen and Jack Dunlap, working in Washington. Eventually information was passed to the KGB that Penkovsky was spying for the West. On 20th October, 1962, Russian intelligence officers raided Penkovsky's apartment and discovered a Minnox camera that had been used to photograph secret documents.

Penkovsky was immediately arrested and it was not long before he gave the name of Wynne as his British contact. A few days later Wynne was arrested at a trade fair in Budapest, Hungary, and flown to the Soviet Union.

After being convicted Wynne was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and Oleg Penkovsky was sentenced to death and was executed on 16th May 1963.

Greville Wynne was released in exchange for Gordon Lonsdale in April 1964. Wynne later upset MI5 when he published his memoirs, The Man from Moscow and wrote the introduction to The Penkovsky Papers.

A British businessman accused of spying for the West has been sentenced to eight years' detention by a Moscow tribunal. The President of the Court declared Greville Wynne, aged 44, would serve three years in prison and five in a labour camp. Spectators in the crowded courtroom applauded and some shouted: "Not enough, not enough."

His co-accused, 43-year-old Soviet scientific official Oleg Penkovsky, was given the death sentence. There were loud cheers when his sentence was read out. He has also been stripped of his rank of colonel and all his medals.

Wynne's sentence began last November when he was arrested in Budapest, Hungary, and handed over to the Soviet authorities. During the four-day trial, the court heard both men had spied for British and American intelligence. Most of the evidence based on confessions given by the two men. Both men pleaded guilty - Wynne "with certain reservations".

The prosecution said Wynne had acted as a go-between passing on "information about Soviet rockets" provided for him by Penkovsky during secret meetings in London, Paris and Moscow.

After sentencing, the court also named British and American officials in Moscow who were said to have helped Wynne in his espionage activities.

British sources continue to deny Wynne was involved in spying.

After the trial, Wynne embraced his wife Sheila in a side room before being driven to the Lubyanka Prison where he has spent the last six months.

It is not known where he will spend the rest of his sentence. Mrs Wynne later told reporters her husband had joked he was not expecting "a Butlin's holiday camp".

Nikolai Borovik, Wynne's Soviet lawyer, said the businessman would appeal.

There are also hopes that he may be exchanged for Soviet spy Gordon Lonsdale, currently serving 25 years in a British prison.

The Courier is Based on Two Unsung Heroes

Set in the 1960s, &lsquoThe Courier&rsquo is a historical drama film that chronicles the life of a working-class British businessman, Greville Wynne, who catches the eye of the MI6 and the CIA while traveling frequently through Eastern Europe on work trips. Soon, the intelligence agency recruits him on a secret mission to avert the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the behest of the agencies, he meets with Soviet comrade, Oleg Penkovsky, and over multiple trips to Moscow, Greville smuggles Soviet intelligence concerning the missiles to prevent the cold-war from escalating.

During the mission, Greville and Oleg form an unlikely friendship and manage to provide shedloads of military information to the West, with their lives at stake. Acclaimed writer-director Dominic Cooke serves as the director, while Tom O&rsquoConnor serves as the writer of the espionage thriller. The movie has been lauded by the critics for Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze’s compelling performance, taut script, well-rounded characters, and stunning visuals. As you delve deeper into the movie, you can&rsquot help but wonder: Whoa! They actually did all that? Well, look no further as we try to answer that question.

Is The Courier Based on a True Story?

Yes, &lsquoThe Courier&rsquo is based on the true story of two unsung heroes – Greville Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky, who put their lives on the line to put a stop to the October Crisis of 1962. The war-like situation was defused mainly because of the dedicated partnership between the real-life Greville and Oleg, who kept maintaining peaceful relations between the countries before their personal interests. At the QnA session after the movie&rsquos premiere at Sundance 2020 festival under the title &lsquoIronbark’ (the code-name given to Oleg), director Dominic Cooke opened up about how why this particular aspect from the pages of history stood out from the rest.

&ldquoI just think it&rsquos written with such heart and vision, and it&rsquos a true story but I didn&rsquot know that when I first read it,&rdquo Cooked told The Wrap. &ldquoI think it kind of takes you into a very different place in terms of the espionage movie in that it&rsquos much more of an emotional relationship based story about the cost of heroism and the cost of acting for the greater good, and all of the key characters pay a big price for what they do.&rdquo

Just like Benedict Cumberbatch&rsquos character, the real-life Greville Maynard Wynne was a regular businessman who was thrown into the political conflict by the British intelligence service because of his ability to avoid garnering unwanted attention onto himself. He acted as a carrier of information from Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel, Oleg Penkovsky, to the United Kingdom, who then passed on the data to their ally, the United States. While talking about his character and the true events that inspired the film, Cumberbatch told Entertainment Weekly, &ldquoIt&rsquos a window into a world that&rsquos not that far from our own, sadly, now, again, as far as how things heat up so quickly in politics and on the global stage. I think we forget how close we came to not existing anymore.&rdquo

In October 1962, Greville and Oleg were arrested by the KGB, the security agency for the Soviet Union. At the time, Oleg was the highest-ranking Soviet official to assist the West and diverge the path of the Cold War. While Oleg was charged with treason and executed in 1963, Greville was sentenced to eight years in the Lubyanka prison. Owing to his worsening health conditions, the British spy was released in 1964 in exchange for Soviet spy Konon Molody. To portray just four scenes that showcase the after-effects of being tortured and harassed at the prison, Cumberbatch had to undergo drastic weight-loss in over three months.

Talking about it, he told EW, &ldquoIt&rsquos nothing compared to what [Wynne] went through,&rdquo he says. &ldquoThat&rsquos the thing with these kinds of roles. People go, &lsquoWhoa, you did that?&rsquo [But] you&rsquore humbled by the reality, which is very far from what you have to do as an actor. And that helps you get there. That gives you all the motivation you need, frankly.&rdquo

The tense political confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s is often touted as the closest the Cold War came to mushrooming into full-fledged nuclear warfare. Apart from evading the addition of another nuclear tragedy in world history, the story of Greville and Oleg proves that two men are sometimes enough to make the world a better place. Thanks to Cumberbatch and Ninidze&rsquos powerful performance that showcase the story of the understated heroism, we see Greville and Oleg&rsquos beautiful bromance unfold on screen.

Age, Height & Measurements

Greville Wynne has been died on 70 years (age at death). Greville born under the Pisces horoscope as Greville's birth date is March 19. Greville Wynne height 7 Feet 0 Inches (Approx) & weight 132 lbs (59.8 kg) (Approx.). Right now we don't know about body measurements. We will update in this article.

Height4 Feet 11 Inches (Approx)
Weight307 lbs (139.2 kg) (Approx)
Body Measurements
Eye ColorDark Brown
Hair ColorBald
Dress SizeM
Shoe Size9 (US), 8 (UK), 42.5 (EU), 27 (CM)

‘ The Courier’ Tells Lesser Known Real Life Spy Story

"The Courier," which opened in cinemas earlier this year, is now available on Bluray.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

Movie theaters reopened on Friday, which is exciting news for people waiting for big Hollywood films like "Godzilla VS Kong," the new Bond and "Black Widow." This weekend many of the Oscar-nominated films are hitting cinemas for the first time and the one new release is the spy thriller, "The Courier."

"The Courier" is based on the true story of how British businessman Greville Wynne was recruited by MI6 to help transport crucial intelligence from a Soviet man named Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze).

It's the early 1960s and Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a salesman who represents Western manufacturers in foreign countries. MI6 sees him and his international dealings as a perfect cover for smuggling information out of Soviet Russia.

Mostly, Wynne was to carry on business as usual. But from time to time he would be asked to bring pilfered Soviet secrets back to London. Penkovsky works for the KGB but has the official title of trade specialist, which means it would be quite unextraordinary for him to meet repeatedly with Wynne.

Penkovsky seems an unlikely spy at first glance. He's a World War II hero and seems a loyal Soviet citizen. But his loyalty is not merely to those holding power it is to something bigger. So when he sees Krushchev pounding the podium and heating up the Cold War tensions, he becomes so concerned over the dangers of potential nuclear war that he decides to turn secrets over to the West in the hope of avoiding a nuclear armageddon.

The story of these two unlikely spies is more in the vein of John La Carrè than James Bond. What the film delivers is something that is both fascinating and utterly mundane. The interactions between the two men were designed to take place in plain sight and not involve any danger, and for the bulk of the film that’s true, which, as you might suspect, is not exactly riveting cinema. Wynne and Penkovsky engage in bland business banter while Wynne’s wife (Jessie Buckley) assumes his new secretiveness is to cover up an affair. The fascinating part is how something that seems so unexciting proves to play a key role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Director Dominic Cooke is a serviceable director. He endows his film with a meticulous sense of detail but without ever making those details feel riveting. The fault lies in part with the script, which gives Wynne the greater focus when in many ways it's Penkovsky who is the more interesting character. The film also creates a female American spy (played by "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's" Rachel Brosnahan) to bring the film some gender equity, but the role feels very much like a plot device.

"The Courier" serves up a fascinating chapter of spy history but it may not be the film to send you rushing back to the cinema. The film is worth seeing, though, so that we can pay tribute to a pair of rather ordinary men who showed extraordinary courage because they had a genuine sense of human decency and desire to keep the world safe for their children and future generations.


San Diego news when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

/> />I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process seeing how pop culture reflects social issues and providing a context for art and entertainment.


According to de Havilland, whose grandfather bought the house from Wynne, Penkovsky told the KGB that Wynne enjoyed ‘alcohol and women of negotiable virtue’ and that the bar would help him extract secrets from the agent as he would be able to talk to him when he was relaxed and more loose-lipped.

Wynne told MI6 a similar story, describing Penkovsky as a nervous type who would be more likely to betray sensitive information when under the influence of alcohol, and arguing that he would be able to ply the Russian with booze in the comfort of his own home.

Of the £1,000 the pair received, only £100 was spent on the construction of the bar – the rest went on alcohol and ‘other forms of entertainment’, according to de Havilland.

British spy Greville Wynne (pictured with his wife Sheila) owned the house in the early 1960s and, at the time, was friends with Soviet double agent Oleg Penkovsky

Murdered: Penkovsky (pictured) was shot in the Soviet Union in 1963, after being arrested the previous year

The townhouse property on one of London’s most expensive streets is on the market for a cool £6million

But while the KGB and MI6 were short-changed over the bar, the conversations that flowed there between the dissolute Wynne and Penkovsky paid real dividends. De Havilland says that his grandfather, who became friends with Wynne, found out what was revealed and how Wynne was secretly rewarded.

In the late 1960s, Wynne was offered the choice of a one-off payment of £50,000 or a life pension by the American government – a vast sum at the time and an unheard-of offer from a foreign government to a British agent.

Wynne, who took the £50,000, suggested that it was a reward for gleaning from Penkovsky vital information about the Russian military sites in Cuba that steered President Kennedy’s brinkmanship diplomacy in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

‘Wynne also told my grandfather that Penkovsky had told him that the USSR was not willing to start World War Three over Cuba and this was vital information for Kennedy,’ says de Havilland.


Unique features: Wine cellar, bar that was paid for by both MI6 and the KGB

Penkovsky was to pay for these conversations with his life. He was shot in the Soviet Union in 1963, after being arrested the previous year. Wynne was also arrested by the KGB, while in Budapest, and taken to the Soviet Union, where he was convicted of spying. Wynne’s conviction and Penkovsky’s execution happened within a week of each other.

Wynne was released in a prisoner exchange a year later. According to de Havilland, it was during his imprisonment in Russia that Wynne, who died in 1990 aged 70, redesigned the interiors of the house, drawing them on toilet paper in his cell.

He was obviously keen on pine. All the cornices on the ceilings you’d expect to see in a house of this period have been covered by pine panelling, giving some of the rooms a sauna-like look.

While the buyers of the house may find that takes some getting used to, they will have plenty to admire elsewhere. The five-bedroom property, which comprises 2,846 square feet, has a spectacular 210 sq ft roof terrace. There is also a large, south-facing garden, with a private studio cottage complete with bathroom and kitchen and separate entrance.

Below the ground-floor reception room in which the bar is situated is a large open-plan kitchen/dining area. The suspicious Penkovsky would often head down to this area when he was concerned about bugging devices.

Perry and Adriana are selling the house to downsize, but Perry admits it will be a wrench after enjoying its quirks.

He has lived there since 1997 when he moved in to help look after his grandfather, who died in 2001.

The Man from Odessa

I actually enjoyed this book more than I originally thought I did. International espionage is not a genre I&aposm really into. But since this is a true story, I tend to read autobiographies a lot more and a lot quicker than fictional spy books. This one, which is about Wynne&aposs activities with MI6 both during and after the war, to the cuban missile crises and to Wynne and Penkovsky arrest and imprisonment after they were caught passing information to the UK and US government.

I had the impression, ho I actually enjoyed this book more than I originally thought I did. International espionage is not a genre I'm really into. But since this is a true story, I tend to read autobiographies a lot more and a lot quicker than fictional spy books. This one, which is about Wynne's activities with MI6 both during and after the war, to the cuban missile crises and to Wynne and Penkovsky arrest and imprisonment after they were caught passing information to the UK and US government.

I had the impression, however, that there was more to the story than what is recounted in this book. Although it's an engrossing account of how a British spy would operate and what he did during those times, it's not a fully complete analysis of the whole cuban missile crises, defecting soviet officials and CIA and MI6 activities. This is clearly only Wynne's point of view, what he believes and what he saw and experienced.
. more

Greville Wynne - History

Stiffed Indeed
• Nigel West
Towards the end of April 1964 a slightly disheveled, disorientated middle-aged man stumbled through RAF Northolt after his arrival from Berlin where he had been exchanged in a spy-swap for the former KGB illegal resident in London, Konon Molody, who had been arrested in January 1961.

Despite a nervous breakdown, a divorce from his wife and estrangement from his son, Wynne initially played along with Whitehall&rsquos pretence that he had been the innocent victim of Soviet persecution, but when he learned that the CIA, which had run Penkovsky jointly with its British SIS colleagues, intended to release a propaganda version of the case entitled The Penkovsky Papers, he abandoned all discretion and, with help from his brother-in-law John Gilbert, produced his account, The Man from Moscow in December 1967.

Much to Whitehall&rsquos irritation, for Wynne&rsquos book undermined everything ministers previously had said to protect SIS&rsquos asset, The Man from Moscow turned the author into a minor celebrity and encouraged him a few years later to take a second bite of the cherry with The Man from Odessa, for which another ghost, Bob Latona, was recruited.

Both books enjoyed some success, but Wynne himself descended into an alcoholic decline, and became increasingly aggressive when anyone challenged the veracity of his biographies. In 1988 he was infuriated by an observation made by me in The Friends, a factual postwar history of SIS operations, about his second book, which had been published seven years earlier, in which he claimed to have played a vital role in the in the defection of a GRU major named Sergei Kuznov in 1959. In fact, no such person ever existed. He also claimed to have accompanied Penkovsky on a secret mission to Washington where they had met President Kennedy. In reality. All that had happened was that Wynne had succumbed to what might be termed &lsquopost-usefulness syndrome&rsquo, a craving for attention, especially from the media.

Outraged by this denigration, Wynne issued libel proceedings, supported by an affidavit in which he insisted that The Man from Odessa had been an accurate recollection of his clandestine roles in Kuznov&rsquos exfiltration and in Penkovsky&rsquos reception at the White House.

At this point I was confronted with two choices: retract the offending remarks and apologise to Wynne, thereby endorsing his falsehoods, or I could enter a defence of justification and, in the limited time allowed by British High Court defamation proceedings, seek to disprove his assertions. I chose the latter course, but this strategy has been criticized by Latona who might have been an important witness, based on what he has written about the litigation.

In a lengthy article, Stiffed by a Spy, published online by, Latona argues that Wynne was a brave patriot who deserved not to be taken entirely seriously. However, when faced with a writ for damages, there is not much room for sentiment, and in pleading justification, the truth is the gold standard. This was a test that Wynne as plaintiff failed at the first hurdle when he filed an affidavit which contained, in the second line, a bare-faced lie. Having achieved his name and date of birth entirely accurately, he then claimed to have ended the war with the British Army rank of major, a commission that would require an entry in the official Army List. This, of course, was a gross breach of the principle of &lsquoclean hands&rsquo which requires anyone bringing a legal action in the High Court to stick to the truth in all matters, because Wynne had never received a commission.

Latona seeks to excuse Wynne&rsquos &ldquoprickliness and vanity&rdquo and appears to believe some of his inventions, such as his purported service in &ldquothe Supply Corps, Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps&rsquo, although that no such units have ever existed in the British Army. Actually, Latona acknowledges that while drafting the manuscript he would &ldquostumble over an obvious discrepancy or some bit that sounded faintly dodgy&rdquo, but instead of challenging Wynne, he simply &ldquoshut up and kept on writing&rdquo.

In a particularly lame attempt to defend Wynne, Latona suggests that he may have played &ldquoa shell game concealing what the Official Secrets Act might consider inconvenient truths&rdquo but of course that criminal statute cannot be deployed to defend a fabrication. The insistence that Wynne had been &ldquoconstrained from revealing the truth&rdquo and had therefore received a &ldquolicense to lie&rdquo is patent nonsense. To submit that Wynne might have risked prosecution if he had disclosed authentic details of his participation in the Kuznov exfiltration, or his visit to the Kennedy White House, is rather far-fetched. So too is Latona&rsquos explanation for one of the major discrepancies in his book which contained a detailed description of Kuznov&rsquos alleged escape from the Soviet Union on the Uzbekistan, when that ship was not even built!

A defendant seeking to demonstrate to a libel jury that a book sold as accurate non-fiction is nothing more than a work of imagination has the task of fact-checking every statement, and the Uzbekistan blunder is a classic example of a slip-up that exposes a falsity. Caught red-handed, Latona suggests that the explanation is that the real name of the ship would &ldquohave been deleted in any manuscript submitted for vetting&rdquo asking, &ldquowouldn&rsquot he have taken the slight trouble of finding out the name of a vessel that really did cruise the Black Sea in 1959?&rdquo . The point is, of course, that neither Latona nor Wynne bothered to undertake that rather obvious research, and no amount of spurious excuses about security considerations can obfuscate the glaringly obvious.

Latona acknowledges that although he has become Wynne&rsquos apologist, which is a curious position for him given that he was swindled out of part of his writing fee, I was &ldquoessentially right about the man&rdquo. His objection seems to be the &ldquoharsh colours&rdquo in which Wynne&rsquos portrait was painted in The Friends, but this rather superficial complaint overlooks the gravity of the offence committed. Having conspired in what amounts to perpetrating a fraud on the book-buying public, he seems reluctant to condemn Wynne for compounding his mischief by threatening, or actually bringing, numerous legal actions, and he even resents the way his co-author was &ldquofound out&rdquo and &ldquocalled to account for his misrepresentations&rdquo.

Latona&rsquos version of Wynne&rsquos litigation is also fundamentally flawed. He says that Penkovsky&rsquos CIA handler, George Kisevalter, predicted that the plaintiff would win, and that the case was concluded with Wynne&rsquos death in February 1990. Actually, Kisevalter and his director, Dick Helms, volunteered to give evidence for the defence, as did two senior SIS retirees (unrestrained by the Official Secrets Act) and by the time Wynne died he had conceded defeat and fled the field.

Latona boasts that &ldquowriting The Man from Odessa taught me how to quarry a narrative out of bulk oral history&rdquo and admits that he resigned himself to accepting Wynne&rsquos lies and misrepresentations, and &ldquohad to surmise, invent, fabricate what might have been said&rdquo because &ldquoI wanted my money&rdquo. He says Wynne &ldquowasn&rsquot a particularly nice man, perhaps not even a very good man&rdquo and was not &ldquoa truthful witness to history&rdquo. So where does that leave his co-author? The irony is that Latona was bilked out of the £2.500 he was promised, yet seems strangely bothered that another potential victim of Wynne&rsquos errant behavior should write about the experience.

It is now nearly thirty years since Wynne brought his ill-founded libel action, and much has been declassified by all the Cold War protagonists. There is still no sign of the elusive Major Kuznov, and the forensic analysis in Seven Spies Who Changed the World of the claims made by Wynne and Latona, which amounts to a compelling demolition, stands as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1991.

One might have imagined that, as Wynne&rsquos collaborator, Latona would be a trifle sheepish, or certainly apologetic for having assisted in a literary swindle, but his attitude is that although he accepts his co-author&rsquos conduct amounts to chicanery, I am to be blamed for defending the legal action, and assembling the evidence to expose Wynne&rsquos mendacity. Specifically, he argues not that Kuznov really did exist, but only that he might have done, and refers to a book written by a former CIA officer, John Hart, who mentioned the existence of undeclared Soviet defectors. I knew Hart after he had retired, when his wife was a senior CIA officer based in London, and the relevant chapter in Seven Spies Who Changed the World investigated the possibility of Kuznov exhaustively, which Latona chooses to overlook. Put simply, Kuznov was a figment of Wynne&rsquos imagination, and his co-author either knew that, or should have known it.

In much the same way Latona does not assert that Wynne was ever smuggled into the White House with Penkovsky, as he described in unconvincing detail, riddled with tell-tale flaws. Latona appears to concede that this was yet another fabrication, but says that the evidence for the non-event, acquired by the Kennedy Library which included the White House Secret Service log-sheets, could have been incomplete, given the president&rsquos proclivity for bringing girlfriends into the building while his wife was absent. Maybe so, but the important issue, which Latona occasionally loses sight of, is that the entire episode is nonsense! It never happened, so why try and nit-pick at the evidence?

Latona&rsquos article reveals a rather shocking mind-set of an individual who. motivated perhaps out of naïveté or the need for money (and he admits to both), embroidered a deceit and, when caught in the act, says that in other circumstances the tale might have been true. Even worse, Latona seems to have been willing to remain silent as a disinterested spectator when a miscarriage of justice appeared to him likely.

Wynne was not some loveable rogue or bar-room scoundrel who deserved a little generosity of spirit. We now know that he was indeed a fantasist incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction who peddled an entirely bogus tale of self-importance, and on the way short-changed his co-author. He was also an alcoholic bully who beat up his second wife Hermione. In the opinion of Joe Bulik, the CIA handler who expressed outrage when SIS&rsquos courier insinuated himself back into the Penkovsky case in Moscow, Wynne&rsquos recklessness imperiled the west&rsquos best GRU source at a critical moment in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. Latona may opine that Wynne does not deserve such harsh treatment, but many readers will feel defrauded by both.

© Nigel West - October 7 2016

Spies like us

Cumberbatch shows tremendous range throughout the film, beginning as a pleasant, put-upon, occasionally awkward husband and father who slowly comes to think of himself as a master spy. But the film's greatest impact is saved for the third act, where without giving anything away, Wynne's world begins to unravel. Your jaw will be on the floor when you see Cumberbatch transformed into the emaciated, broken Wynne he eventually becomes, and your heart will break watching him cling to the tiniest sliver of hope.

He also does much of his acting in silence, in hushed tones and shifting glares. Attempting to present himself as just another empty vessel in a film filled with nondescript hotel rooms, one memorable scene has Neville returning to his temporary home behind the Iron Curtain, where he makes it a point to meticulously place his personal objects in very specific order. When he notices the dictionary on his desk upside down — a surefire sign the KGB is watching him — the revelation packs as many thrills and chills as the costliest Michael Bay action scene.

Making matters even more powerful is that this is a true story. Screenwriter Tom O'Connor found himself on the trail of Greville Wynne in the wake of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, when the history of American/Russian relations once again became a hot topic. Although a decent amount of information was known about Oleg Penkovsky — considered the West's most valuable double agent during the Cold War — history knew very little about the British businessman who aided in his heroism. Navigating mountains of classified documents and details, O'Connor was able to extract newfound details about the little-known Wynne and piece together the blueprint for this movie, which concludes with powerful, actual footage of Greville Wynne himself.

Utilizing archive footage of President Kennedy (it's a difference worth commenting on that everyone in '60s America watches on TV, while folks in the Soviet Union listen on radios), The Courier is the sort of movie you sit watching some 60 years after we survived the Cuban Missile Crisis on the edge of your seat, wondering if we'll survive the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Thankfully, in part because of the insight Penkovsky's intelligence leaks provided to top government officials navigating those 13 pivotal days in October 1962, we did survive. But other dramatized scenes drive home how grim the situation was, how suspicion ruled the day, and how even the slightest appearance of disloyalty towards Khrushchev could earn a death sentence.

“The Courier”: a top-notch true-to-life spy thriller

THE COURIER is a top-notch spy thriller that pivots on the friendship that develops between a Russian mole and his British “courier.” More true-to-life than many other spy films with their glamour and action sequences, this picture is carried by strong acting performances, in particular by Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role and Merab Ninidze as Oleg Penkovsky.

There is an initial title card that indicates that the movie is based on true events. That may be so, but I for one had never heard of Greville Wynne. The film ends with a clip of the real Wynne as an acknowledgement of his bravery.

I had, however, heard of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, since I was five years old when that was going on. Wynne and Penkovsky played important, if unheralded, roles in that affair.

The story begins with Nikita Khrushchev giving a speech to the party faithful. The implication is that he is a dangerous man. Oleg Penkovsky is among those in attendance. He is a war hero but is becoming disillusioned with the Soviet way of life.

He gives an envelope to two American students in the subway system in Moscow. One of them goes to the U.S. Embassy with the document.

In London a meeting is taking place where two key operatives are meeting with the head of MI6. Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) believe that Penkovsky’s knowledge of intimate Russian military plans will bear fruit if they can get them out of the U.S.S.R. Emily is with the CIA, which at this time does not have a robust network of operatives in the U.S.S.R.

We switch to Wynne (Cumberbatch) on the golf course with some clients. He is a salesman who has facilitated business deals for the English with Eastern European countries since the 1950’s. He deliberately misses an easy putt as part of his come-on routine to his customers.

Next we meet Wynne’s wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) and his son Andrew (Keir Hills) at their flat. The couple’s relationship survived a previous strain caused by Greville’s infidelity.

Since Penkovsky’s official duties involve trade, a scheme is hatched to use Greville Wynne’s sales activities in Communist Eastern Europe as a pretext to get him into Moscow. Wynne is initially reluctant but ultimately agrees after he is told that all he will be doing is carrying documents.

Of course he cannot tell his wife what is really going on. Eventually this will lead her to suspect that he is having another affair and their marriage begins to crumble.

We see many scenes of Wynne and Penkovsky in Russia. The Soviet even makes a trip with a trade delegation to London. Wynne meets Penkovsky’s family in Moscow. There also are scenes of Wynne meeting with his handlers.

Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in THE COURIER
Photo Credit: Liam Daniel, Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

As time goes by, a Russian mole in MI6 gets wind of the information coming out of the Soviet Union and reports this to his masters. Penkovsky wants to get himself and his family out of the country.

Wynne’s handlers tell him that the operation is a bust. Yet Wynne insists on going back one last time because of his friendship with Oleg. Will they succeed in getting Penkovsky out? Will Wynne be captured?

The difficulty with fictional historical pictures is how much adherence should the filmmakers take with the facts? The movie version can unsettlingly become the “real” version to viewers not willing to do further research. Taking this kind of picture with a grain of salt is always advisable and should be used as a stepping-stone to more critical analysis if interest is there for the moviegoer.

THE COURIER takes what I felt was an unusual tone with the events it covers. The Cuban Missile Crisis, a major international event, is downplayed in favor of the Wynne-Penkovsky story. Several of the documents passed along by the Soviet related to the arms buildup in Cuba and the Crisis occurs during the course of the picture.

Yet there is no sense of the fear and dread, at least in the United States, that this generated. I would assume that the U.K., even closer than the U.S. to Soviet nuclear destruction, was probably similarly affected. This lack of emphasis seems to lessen the achievements of the two main protagonists.

Khrushchev does mention at one point that the U.S. has nuclear missiles in Turkey, right on Russia’s border. So isn’t having missiles in Cuba comparable to that? Frankly, I had never considered that angle before.

I appreciated the real-life approach of the screenwriter to spy work. Not all of it is like it is for James Bond. There are some action scenes as they try to smuggle out Penkovsky but those are realistic and appropriate.

The movie is long at almost two hours. Some of the later scenes could have been edited down or omitted. By this time in the film, however, we already are engaged in the fate of the two leads so that counterbalances the slower pace.

Cumberbatch and Ninidze are stellar as Wynne and Penkovsky. There is much subtlety in their emotional displays. The fact that Cumberbatch is almost a dead ringer for the real Wynne is startling.

The other actors are rarely in the spotlight but do yeoman’s work. Jessie Buckley notably shines as the long-suffering wife of Wynne and adds credibility to the relationship. Prague is mentioned as a location and I assume that it substituted for Moscow. The period details are well done whether in production design or costumes.

I would recommend this film to anyone who appreciates espionage stories, especially those based on real life. There is some violence but no gratuitous gore. Younger audiences would likely be bored.

This is a story that deserved to be told, and to have actors of the caliber of Cumberbatch and Ninidze in the lead roles adds to its believability.

Four out of five stars

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.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley
Directed by Dominic Cooke
Written by Tom O’Connor

The Courier Parents Guide

The Courier tells the true story of British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) who was recruited by MI6 to become an informant during the Cold War. Wynne was sent to Russia to spy on the Soviet nuclear program, working with Russian Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), to collect intelligence which eventually halted the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Courier Age Appropriate

Lets take a look at what parents need to know before letting their kids watch The Courier.

Language: There is some strong language used in the film but used infrequently, consisting of words like f*ck.

Violence: The films include torture scenes with beatings, starvation and an execution of a character by being shot in the head at close range. There is also a scene in which a character was poisoned.

Nudity: There is one particular scene that shows a character in the shower and his bare rear end is shown. There is also one scene in which a character has his anus probed, looking for evidence, but nothing graphic is shown in camera view.

Drinking/Smoking: The film contains consumption of alcohol and smoking tobacco.

Overall Thoughts

With The Courier being based on real-life historical events, one might say the film attempts to reinvent the wheel by coming out with yet another Cold War depiction of the tensions between Russia and the United States. Yet, director Dominic Cooke gives it the old college try resulting in an impressive fresh-take on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Admittedly, The Courier has a very slow start and at times, may become confusing for some as it pieces together parts of history to bring viewers up to speed. But once the film begins to settle in and the second act hits, Cooke excels at seeping into the heart-pounding thriller while also displaying the effects of isolation which Wynne experiences the further he delves into the espionage world.

Benedict Cumberbatch truly embodied Greville Wynne, with his method acting which is even recognizable in his extreme weightloss during his time in a Russian prison. The utter pain and desperation while being totured in prison exudes in every espression and is only emphasized in Cooke’s perfect camera angles which add to the suffering he endures. If I had one complaint, I could have done without the addition of Rachel Brosnahan, who is best known from her role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It seems like she has the Napoleon Dynamite syndrome. Just like John Heder was seen as Napoleon Dynamite in everything he acted in after the movie came out, Brosnahan has not been able to shake off her Maisel persona.

The Courier ends the best way a film based off history could end, with footage of the real Greville Wynne. When one thinks of the Cuban Missile Crisis, figures like John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev come to mind, never the name of ordinary businessman Greville Wynne. Yet, if it hadn’t been for his self-sacrifice for the good of mankind, who knows how the world would have turned out. Oleg deserves even more credit, as he ended up paying the ultimate price for his “treason.” He knew the risks and made a choice to do what was right depite the potential outcome. Brave men indeed, and a well deserved spotlight on them at a time when heroes are in short supply.