The Courier director, Dominic Cooke, on why the film changed its name

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Dominic Cooke may be a comparative newcomer to the cinema industry, but his career in the performing arts is already into its fourth decade. The former artistic director at the Royal Court Theatre has plenty of awards to show for his productions, but around five years ago he was feeling, to use his own words, “a bit burnt out” and was looking for a new challenge. It came in the shape of BBC TV’s The Hollow Crown, but more change was on the way, with his first feature film, On Chesil Beach, which was released in 2017.

As that film made its debut, his second project had already been announced and The Courier, as it’s now known, opens in UK cinemas this week. Set in a Cold War Britain overshadowed by the threat of nuclear war, it tells the true story of smooth talking salesman, Greville Wynne, who became immersed in the espionage war between the West and the USSR. A disaffected senior Russian senior official had offered to pass secrets to the British and Americans who, looking for a courier, chose Wynne as the person least likely to raise suspicions. While the two men became friends over time, the amount of information falling into American hands was also coming to the attention of the KGB and their spotlight eventually fell on Wynne.

Originally known as Ironbark, the film’s name was changed after its screening at Sundance in 2020. Research showed that audiences didn’t respond well to it and, although Cooke initially had reservations about the more generic title The Courier, seeing it with an audience in Zurich last year changed his mind. “The audience got into it earlier and that was because of the title,” he explained. “It helped.”

Making the move to the small and then big screen hasn’t taken Cooke completely away from his first love, the theatre, however. He’s about to start rehearsals for a new stage play and counts himself privileged to be able to work in both arenas. But, despite starting work in the theatre, he admits “I can’t wait to do another film. It’s been so long.”

The Courier is released in cinemas on 13th August. | Read our review of the film.