Opening in 1960,(12A) stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne, a businessman with trade experience behind the Iron Curtain who agrees to contact Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) on behalf of MI6.
As the Cold War hots up, Penkovsky — a loyal Soviet citizen — seeks to nullify the Russian threat of nuclear apocalypse, which mission becomes a matter of some urgency when Chairman Khrushchev (Vladimir Chuprikov) signs off on plans to establish a ballistic missiles base on Cuba.
Danger abounds, of course, although somehow the ebullient Greville never anticipates that his wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) might come to suspect that his Moscow trips are cover for an illicit affair...
Written by Tom O’Connor and directed by Dominic Cooke,— which is based on a true story — opens in rather jaunty style as Wynne (‘just an ordinary businessman’) toddles off to Moscow in a sheepskin coat and ridiculous moustache.
If the early stages are reminiscent of Graham Greene’s, the tone quickly takes on the kind of grimly realistic tone we associate with John le Carré’s spy novels, as the grey and largely indistinguishable worlds of London and Moscow collide.
Benedict Cumberbatch is in good form here as the amateur spy (his role is not unlike that of Tom Hanks in), all stiff-upper-lip and hearty bonhomie, and there’s very strong support from Merab Ninidze as the decorated Soviet hero who only reluctantly betrays his country and family for the sake of humanity. (streaming release)