The first hour, which focuses on existing and emerging human relationships in England and Russia, plays better than the second hour in prison. There is a soft and realistic dynamic between Sheila and Greville. Buckley gives an excellent performance that carries her to the predictable moment when she must pivot towards the strong spouse while cautiously awaiting her husband’s return. Of course, she’s convinced Greville is cheating when she catches him exercising more than he’s ever done, not to mention he’s trying new things he never considered. previously in bed. Buckley handles this with the right touch of bewilderment and strength, warning that she won’t be so understanding if there is another woman. Her best scene is when she realizes the true nature of her husband’s secret and how she might never get the chance to tell him that she’s sorry for not trusting him.
We also spend time with Penkovsky, his wife and daughter. Their scenes are just as loving as those of the Wynnes, but they are tinged with more danger. Penkovsky is a decorated ex-soldier with lots of security clearances, and as he tells Wynne, everyone in Russia has eyeballs watching over the state. One can easily predict that Penkovsky’s spy work will catch up with him, but it’s a bumpier path to believe that Wynne would risk his life and limbs to come back and try to help him defect. Once captured, “The Courier” loses strength as it isolates its main character for violent prison scenes that we’ve seen endless times before. These sequences culminate in a prison cell reunion between Penkovsky and Wynne which is memorable as she wears her empathy like a sentimental badge of honor.
While there is nothing new or transformative here, “The Courier” remains afloat due to the play of Buckley, Cumberbatch, and Ninidze. Unfortunately, Brosnahan’s performance is flat. His character feels completely irrelevant here, as if Donovan was cast to inject an American into a very British story. Her one big scene, where she attempts to terrify Wynne by describing the four minutes he would have if a nuclear weapon headed for London, is unconvincing and doesn’t have the opposite psychological effect as the film thinks. I was a little surprised that “The Courier” worked for me as well as it did, and I have to give some credit to Sean Bobbitt’s brooding cinematography and Abel Korzeniowski’s engaging score. Their work gave the illusion that this film could have been produced on time. It sealed the deal for me.