SpyTalk at the Movies: The Courier

The Cold War espionage thriller is a love story of sorts with an Armageddon backdrop


The Courier is a love story of sorts, with a spy world twist on a well trod Hollywood plot arc: Boy meets boy—in this case British businessman Greville Wynne and Soviet turncoat Oleg Penkovsky—boy loses boy, boy gets boy back again, and then. . . Well, there’s a shocking climax for those unfamiliar with their story.

It begins in 1960, maybe the coldest of the Cold War years. Penkovsky, a colonel with a conscience in the Soviet (now Russian) GRU, military intelligence, becomes alarmed by Premier Nikita Khruschev’s plot to sneak nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba. Visons of a global conflgration shred his loyalty oath. In October, he makes a stab at contacting the American embassy in Moscow by foisting a note on U.S. college students visiting Red Square.

It makes its way to the CIA. Intrigue ensues.

The CIA, with limited contacts in Russia, asks the Brits to take over the case and reel in Penkovsky, a prize catch if it turns out he’s real. MI6 recruits Wynne, an electrical engineer with a…

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