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“Code: Ironbark” / The Courier

Drama genre
Directed by Dominic Cook
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Greville Wynn), Merab Ninidze (Oleg Penkovsky), Rachel Brosnahan (Emily Donovan), Jessie Buckley (Sheila Wynn), Angus Wright (Dickie Franks), Keir Hills (Andrew Wynn), Jonathan Harden (Leonard), Kirill Pirogov (Gribanov) and others.
Studios 42, FilmNation Entertainment, SunnyMarch
Release year 2021
Site IMDb

The film takes place in the early 1960s, when relations between the USSR and the USA were very tense and could end in a nuclear war. The film’s scriptwriters recall the events of the “Cuban Missile Crisis”, drawing attention to two real people who revealed secret information and influenced the development of world events. Naturally, the script deviates from accurate historical references, concentrating on the personal challenges of non-professional spies, but the film always returns to a brief description of the political situation that the characters learn from radio or television broadcasts.

Actually, the strange title of the film “Code: Ironbark” is a reference to the code name of the Soviet colonel Oleg Penkovsky (played by actor Merab Ninidze), who passed secret information to British and American intelligence agents. He is one of the main characters in the film, who initiated contact with the West. Penkovsky will not immediately come to the forefront, at first the creators of the picture will show the average Briton, who has nothing to do with politics or military secrets.

This Briton turns out to be an ordinary businessman Greville Wynn (Benedict Cumberbatch), who enters into contracts for trade. One day, MI6 agents approach him, suggesting that Wynn become a spy. He is asked for a seemingly insignificant feat – Greville must make business trips to Moscow, where he will receive information from Penkovsky and quietly transport it to the UK. At first, a businessman cannot imagine himself as a liaison risking his life, but over time he gets a taste of secret work and comes to the USSR more and more often.


It must be admitted that Benedict Cumberbatch is very suitable for films of this genre, and he is revealed like nowhere else in dramas based on real events. Thanks to the actor, Wynn’s barely visible transformation is noticeable – he does not turn from an ordinary merchant into a universal spy, but only gains confidence with each new journey. From a person completely unsuited to carry out secret missions, a merchant becomes a reliable agent who has adapted to a foreign environment. This, by the way, is noticed by his wife (her role is played by Jessie Buckley, familiar to many from the TV series Chernobyl), who suspects her husband of anything but espionage.

How the hero of Benedict Cumberbatch gradually turns into a secret agent, we see in a classic gluing from a series of similar events. This spectacle becomes entertaining thanks to the musical accompaniment of the Polish composer Abel Kozhenevsky, which captures the rhythm of the waltz.

Another cliché, which, thanks to successful editing, turns into intriguing moments, is the secret activity of Oleg Penkovsky – he systematically looks into secret archives and takes pictures of military documents. Tensions escalate as the Colonel operates a handheld camera – something like this has been seen in dozens of spy action films, but the well-shot scenes and the overall darkly serious tone of the picture bring the film “Code: Ironbark” to a qualitative level.

It is these films with a real story at the heart of the script that reach large audiences, offering a somewhat idealized, but overall very good story (years ago, the drama could have been nominated for an Oscar, but now the film awards have different standards for selecting pictures).


The director of the film, Dominic Cook, periodically shows the negotiations of professional MI6 agents (among them the character of Rachel Brosnahan), but he shifts the main focus to the interaction of a British businessman and a Soviet colonel, which gradually turns into a strong friendship. Unable to show sincere appreciation in public, they become colleagues who offer tacit support to each other. Closer to the finale, events become less rosy, and at some point Cook notably overdoes it with sentimentality between the characters, but due to the denouement, this weakness can be forgiven him.

Fortunately, there are more accurate scenes in the film, in which the main characters, being in nervous tension and euphoria from the work done, show themselves. This is the moment in the theater hall where the spies watch the ballet and emotionally react to the climax of the performance, transferring their experiences to it.

Well, in the best traditions of films based on real stories, Code: Ironbark shows documentary footage and briefly talks about how the adventure of secret agents ended.

Pros: Benedict Cumberbatch fits in nicely with movies like this; music by Abel Kozhenevsky, which sets the pace for the main scenes; tension in moments with military espionage Cons: the director goes too far with sentimentality in the friendship of secret agents Conclusion:

a story about two people who influenced the development of world events. In some places it is idealized and filmed according to classic clichés, but this does not make the film bad.

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