‘The Courier’ Summary & Ending, Explained – Two Men Who Stopped a Nuclear War


A film based on historical and true events carries the responsibility of ‘information.’ Some narratives are exceptionally rare and the contribution of unlauded men in them needs to be brought in front of the world. The Courier is an Espionage thriller film that revolves around the cold war and depicts the contribution of two men whose efforts stopped a Nuclear War.

‘The Courier’ Summary

During the cold war in 1960, the Russian leader Khrushchev and his American counterpart are actively trading threats. However, the American government had little idea that Russia is developing nuclear warheads in a location close enough to bombard their mainland. A humanely sane Russian military personnel and engineer, Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) sends out proof to the American embassy about Khrushchev’s plan of action.

American Intelligence agency CIA cannot function in Moscow due to conflicted relationships between the countries and hence agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) of CIA seeks out help from British Intelligence Agency MI6. They plan to plot a man in Moscow who would make contact with Penkovsky and extract further information regarding the Russian nuclear warheads. However, to do this job, they need an extremely amateur man whom KGB won’t suspect and that’s how they come across a salesman named Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Greville is a simple businessman who moves around the world making contacts and selling stuff. When MI6 approaches him regarding their undercover mission for Moscow, Greville is a bit hesitant but he later agrees. His job is to act as a courier between Penkovsky and MI6. Through Greville, the intelligence agency gets hold of a top-secret Soviet nuclear program and its secret base in Cuba. The CIA had promise Penkovsky safety for his own life and his family in exchange for this information but KGB learns about their secret espionage mission. They arrest both Penkovsky and Greville and lock them up. British and American governments try hard to get them out. The film further explores their struggle inside the Russian prison where they are tortured without food.

Major Spoilers Ahead

‘The Courier’ Ending Explained

In their pursuit to stop the nuclear war, Penkovsky and Greville became good friends. They showed each other around and introduced themselves to their culture. They also met each other’s family. Hence, when Greville was arrested in Moscow and thrown into prison, he kept his mouth sealed and stuck to the story that he didn’t know what was inside the package that Penkovsky gave him. According to Greville, he was just acting as a Courier man who did a small favor to his business partner in exchange of earning loyalty. It’s a part of his job of being a good salesman.

Six months later when Greville’s wife comes to Moscow to visit him in prison, he learns through her that Khrushchev has withdrawn the nuclear warheads from Cuba. The news brings utter joy to skinny-boned Greville. In his last meeting with Penkovsky, he delivers the same good news to him and motivates his dying spirit by lauding his efforts. He tells him that Khrushchev has withdrawn his missiles because of Penkovsky. His own country might call him a traitor but he has truly become a hero for the millions by stopping a nuclear war.

Later Greville was released from a Russian prison in exchange for the soviet spy Konon Molody. He came back to London and resumed his career in business.

Oleg Penkovsky was executed and buried in an unmarked grave. His family was allowed to live quietly in Moscow. Penkovsky and Greville smuggled more than 5000 top-secret military documents out of the USSR. Together they stopped the Cuban Missle Crisis and prevented a nuclear catastrophe.

“Maybe we’re only two people but this is how things change.”

The Courier is an intriguing spy drama. It plays strongly from start to end and doesn’t burden the viewers with a pile of stale information. The drama is engaging throughout. The best part of the film is that it runs smoothly without any dull moments whatsoever. It is based on true historical events and thus the impact it delivers increases two-fold. It magnificently puts spotlight on the endeavor of two common men, heroes actually, who weren’t celebrated in history, and thus the film tries to fulfill its duty by narrating their tale with grace.

Benedict Cumberbatch is captivating as always but his character didn’t have enough substance to showcase mastery. In the ending sequences, his incredible transformation does take your breath away but the transition is too sudden. It fails to create an empathic impact. However, the man sure does surprise you with his hollow face and skinny body. But there is a lack of character development. It is the flaw of the narrative rather than of the actor. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel fame Rachel Brosnahan had a noticeable role but her performance wasn’t noticeable enough.

The Courier is an important tale of what human will can do. It applauds the efforts of two unknown men who stopped a nuclear war. Other than that, it is an entertaining Espionage thriller that won’t disappoint you.

The Courier is a 2021 spy thriller film directed by Dominic Cooke. The film is available for Video on Demand.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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