The Courier

Friday 15th October 2021

The Courier is a true-life spy thriller, the story of an unassuming British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Merab Ninidze, Angus Wright
Dominic Cooke
Adam Ackland, Rory Aitken, Ben Browning, Ben Pugh
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
1 hour 52 minutes
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On 16, October 1962, President John F Kennedy was handed high-altitude photographs taken from U-2 planes flying over Cuba that showed Soviet soldiers setting up nuclear-armed missiles on the island. The United States had been tipped-off that the Soviet Union was putting nuclear warheads on the Caribbean Island. The Cuban Missile Crisis saw the world on the brink of nuclear war.

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, scriptwriter Tom O'Connor was very curious about the history of Russian American espionage. "I started reading history books," says O'Connor. "Oleg Penkovsky, played by Merab Ninidze in the movie, is a legendary source that the Americans had in the Soviet Union. One line of one book said Oleg Penkovsky's contact was a British civilian called Greville Wynne. At that point, my screenwriter cap popped on."

O'Connor found out as much as he could about Wynne and Penkovsky. Their relationship is mentioned in several books but only in fragments. "There's enough to understand the basics," states O'Connor. "A lot of the events were and remain classified, and so sometimes, finding out what exactly happened was a challenge because there is active misinformation being put out by both sides. People don't necessarily want everything on-the-record."

Also, Wynne had written an autobiography in 1967 titled, The Man From Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky. However, O'Connor was aware that the reliability of this book had been questioned: "I read a few people who did a point-by-point discrediting of the things that Wynne claimed happened arguing that they couldn't possibly be real."

Piecing the story together from various sources, O'Connor wrote the draft on spec and sent it out to production companies. It landed on the desk of 42's Ben Pugh, who immediately knew he wanted 42 to produce the film.

"I wanted to make a movie like this for a long time," says Pugh. "I love that period. I loved the idea of an everyday guy in the centre of that world with all these thrilling elements and this massive global political backdrop while it's about him and his family, and he ends up trying to save the world."

Pugh pitched 42 as the perfect home for the script to O'Connor. Once 42 became producers on the project, Pugh sent the script to Dominic Cooke, who had been Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the Royal Court Theatre 2006-2009, and directed On Chesil Beach, an adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017.

"The script jumped out at me," says Cooke. "It was such a well-written and gripping piece about a brilliant story that I didn't know much about."

As he read the script, Cooke imagined Cumberbatch playing Wynne. They had worked together several times in the theatre and BBC TV's The Hollow Crown, based on Shakespeare's history plays, in which Cumberbatch played Richard III. O'Connor and Pugh also hoped that Cooke would suggest the Oscar-nominated actor. Pugh says, "When Dominic came on board he did a little pass of the script with Tom and then it went straight to Benedict."

"Cooke came to meet me about the part and the project. Obviously, I was very keen to work with him again," says Cumberbatch, who was fascinated by Wynne. "I was intrigued by the arc the character went on. As our discussions continued, I said I'd love to augment the process by helping to produce it with SunnyMarch alongside my producing partner Adam Ackland."

Sunny March's Ackland was excited to be working on an espionage tale. "We were not looking to make a spy thriller," Ackland says. "We just happened to find a great story in that genre featuring good characters, gravitas, and humanity."

With the director and leading man signed, Pugh was ready to move production onto the next phase. "With UTA's help, we all sent the script to FilmNation. They're the premier financier in this space in terms of these sorts of movies, and they joined as financiers and producers. It became a very amazing team with those 3 companies, 42, SunnyMarch and FilmNation."

Ben Browning, President of Production and Acquisitions at FilmNation, says, "We do many films in this space, working with high-end talent that tends to have a reach with a global audience. We worked with the writer Tom on a movie that ultimately we didn't make; we'd worked with Benedict on The Imitation Game and I knew Dominic's work from the theatre, and I enjoyed his first film."

FilmNation took the packaged film to Cannes in 2018, where it was met with enthusiasm. "The reception was very healthy because it's a spy film that felt like it had something new and timely to say," says Browning. "There's a long history of successful great Cold War thrillers, the difference here is that rather than being about inscrutable people with inscrutable motives it has a clear emotional heart, and it's essentially about a relationship between two men who did something extraordinary."

When O'Connor was writing the screenplay, he had an idea of whom he would cast to play Wynne; "Benedict was always the dream. During the writing process, I was trying hard not to get my hopes up. I didn't want to get fixated on Benedict because I thought he would never do it."

"Benedict Cumberbatch has a great history of playing indelible tortured geniuses," says FilmNation's Browning on the actor nominated for a Best Lead Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. "But in this instance, playing Greville, he starts off as an everyman who then gets dragged into the spy game. That allows Benedict to bring a lot of different shades to this character."

Cumberbatch was also attracted to Wynne's personality. Reading the script, he says he was hooked by Wynne's "sense of humour, his doggedness, and his unexpected strength. This idea that he was a salesman selling a version of himself."

"This guy goes on an extraordinary journey," continues Cumberbatch. "From being an ordinary businessman, one who is quite severely dyslexic, almost to the point of illiteracy, to being a conduit for the West to get the most important bit of secret information during the Cold War and The Cuban Missile Crisis."

The British actor has always been intrigued by tales of espionage. Cumberbatch adds; "Spies are interesting meat and drink for actors because there's always mask play and role play and the shifts are very sudden and quick."

Wynne's mission is to make contact with a Soviet military intelligence colonel named Oleg Penkovsky. They strike up a significant friendship. "Penkovsky likes him and trusts him," says Cumberbatch. "And Penkovsky sees that loyalty returned when Wynne tries to help him escape."

Wynne returns to Moscow even after being warned that he would put himself in peril by doing so. Wynne decides that he has to help his friend Penkovsky escape. The KGB catches Wynne trying to help his friend, and he was arrested on 11 May 1963, and subsequently was sentenced to 8 years in jail.

"And then we get the tragedy of this very ordinary man being stretched to the limits of his endurance, physically and mentally in a Russian Gulag," says Cumberbatch. "What he endured is all the more incredible considering he wasn't a trained spook and he had no background or inclination to do the work he was asked to do. He did it out of loyalty to his country."

Cumberbatch was horrified reading about the treatment Wynne endured in jail. "They tried everything, from the worst kind of deprivation to beatings, to psychological torture, to turning on the warm showers, turning them off again," says Cumberbatch. "That immediate breaking of a man was awful."

Wynne was released from jail in exchange for the spy Gordon Lonsdale in 1964. He would go on to write two books about his experiences in Moscow, The Man from Moscow: The Story of Wynne and Penkovsky (1967) and The Man from Odessa (1981), in which he claimed Penkovsky committed suicide in prison, an account which runs counter to the official and universally accepted belief that Penkovsky died in the gallows after being sentenced to death.

O'Connor believes that the personal accounts contained within the books written by Wynne were compromised: because of Wynne's state of mind, following his incarceration: "After Wynne was released from Soviet prison, he was extremely traumatised, by the events of his imprisonment, by the captivity, by everything."

The prison experience changed Wynne. "He was documented as falling into a state where his mental health was challenged. He became an alcoholic and left his wife," says O'Connor. "He lost his business income and so, needed money."

Then there was the secrecy that is part and parcel of espionage so MI6 would never acknowledge his work even after he was released. "The British government never publicly acknowledged anything he did or thanked him for what he had done," adds O'Connor. "He probably felt a lack of gratitude and, I think Greville would have resented that, and I think that is also part of the reason why, when he wrote his book, he wanted to sort of, claim even more credit and that he was more involved than he really was."

The Courier culminates with Wynne shaven-headed and alone in prison. The film hints that even when he's released all will not be well. He is a broken man no longer at peace with himself. "The coda of this story is of a man realising that he hasn't quite arrived home," says Cumberbatch. "It's definitely implied that it's going to be a rough ride on the journey to recovery."

The search to find the actor to play Penkovsky started soon after Cooke and Cumberbatch joined the project. World-renowned casting agent Nina Gold was employed, and they went to Moscow in their search to find someone who could bring the requisite gravitas to the role.

"Because there's a lot of Russian dialogue I wanted to have a Russian speaker in the role. We went to Moscow and looked at a bunch of amazing actors," says Cooke. "I'd seen Merab Ninidze in McMafia and thought he was sensational in it. Of course, he's Georgian, but he had lived in Russia, so he understood the world of it."

"We actually brought him in to read for Gribanov, the KGB officer, originally, but he was so good in the audition, I thought that I would get him back to read for Penkovsky," says Cooke. "And when he came back, we were just completely sold on him."

The story was completely new to Ninidze, who only knew of Penkovsky by name. He became nervous as he watched footage of the Soviet colonel on YouTube: "I didn't know how to play him. I didn't look anything like him."

"I tried to create a fantasy based on the two minutes of footages of Penkovsky," says Ninidze. "I took the clip as inspiration and turned it into a performance, without trying to mimic how Penkovsky was."

Director Cooke was struck by Ninidze's ability to add so many layers to his performance as Penkovsky. Once cast, Ninidze immersed himself into learning as much about the culture, attitudes and style of the period as possible.

Ninidze says, "I started re-watching Soviet films made during that time. I grew up with these movies and they contain a lot of information about Soviet society from the time: how people behaved, what their ideals were, and what they believed."

Penkovsky, codenamed HERO, was a Soviet military intelligence colonel during the 1950s and early 1960s. Born in Vladikavkaz in 1919, his father died fighting as an officer in the White Army during the Russian Civil War.

Ninidze felt that he could understand the mindset of Penkovsky by studying his family history. "He had to hide parts of his past because he was related to a man who was the enemy of the Communists," says Ninidze. "He had to carry this on his back."

Penkovsky was able to detract attention from his family history by proving his belief in the cause by joining the Soviet army. "He did heroic things on the Ukrainian front," says Ninidze. "He was very well respected in the military world but after the war, no one cared about this anymore. He had all of these medals, but he was just a high-ranking bureaucrat."

How this affected Penkovsky's sense of self-worth was an important aspect of his character. "This guy was fearless, narcissistic and self-obsessed," says the performer. "He's like a forgotten actor who wants to have a big comeback."

His ego is also what made Penkovsky think he could get away with being a whistle-blower. "He is convinced that this would never happen to him because he thinks he is too smart and by the time the Soviets would find out, he would already be living in Montana, in the United States," explains Ninidze.

The friendship with Wynne blossomed so quickly because they had shared experiences. "They bonded on family," says Ninidze. "They understood how much they both risked. There was a need to give each other support."

"It's quite interesting the idea that if you love someone and you do have a family and it matters to you, how do you manage when a big chunk of your life is off-limits?" asks Cooke. "One of the things that push Penkovsky and Wynne together in the film is that they both share this problem."

Giving Wynne a personal life was important for the filmmakers. "We don't know much about Wynne's marriage," says screenwriter O'Connor. "What is known is that his first wife Sheila was present throughout the Moscow trial and divorced him after his release."

Using these facts, the filmmakers tried to look at ways to incorporate the trouble in their marriage. "The idea that Wynne had an affair came out of conversations with Dominic," says O'Connor. "There was a view that keeping his spying secret was analogous to having an affair. He is betraying the marriage by keeping this secret and because he'd had an affair before, it made the current betrayal even more painful."

"He can't share his secrets with his wife because it puts her and his son at risk if he does because they become accomplices," says Cumberbatch. "He has to lie to her. She sees through this and distrusts his lying and feels that he is betraying her again."

Rising star Jessie Buckley plays Sheila. "I was struck by this woman's incredible will power and stoicism," she says. "I always felt like she would have made the most incredible spy. There was constantly so much bubbling under the surface."

Buckley had quite a lot of leeway in how to play Sheila as "There was hardly any information about Sheila at all. She seemed to have disappeared after the whole event but there was some video footage of her and pictures which were helpful."

Buckley wanted to emphasize how Sheila had to constantly keep a lid on her emotions: "There were a lot of suppressed emotions in the sixties, especially a housewife who is unhappy and unfulfilled in life. Everything is smoke screens and smiles behind pained eyes. Basically, lots of quiet moments which were interrupted with sharp sips of martinis."

"I don't think you get that much about marriages in many spy dramas," says Cooke. "It tends to be overlooked. Someone under pressure domestically is going to be put under stress, which is quite likely to threaten their abilities to carry out the mission."

Emily, the CIA operative played by Rachel Brosnahan, comes up with the idea of using Wynne to get information out of Moscow. She is a composite of a few of the real-life CIA officers who worked the Wynne and Penkovsky operation.

"Emily is fictional, in the sense that at the time, the officers who worked on this operation were all men," says O'Connor. "We felt casting another male wasn't the most compelling version of the story to tell these days. We decided it would be more interesting to have the American, the CIA officer, be a woman."

"As much as possible, one wants to be safe and balanced in the cast without being dishonest about the period," says Cooke. "At the time, there were women in the secret services, especially in MI6. Being a woman operating in a very patriarchal world, Emily has to be very strategic and clever to get her own way."

"Writing Emily was fun," says O'Connor. "To watch her toggle back, playing dumb and deferential and then revealing this steely side of herself, that became the key to the character. Watching Rachel Brosnahan play her was just phenomenal."

Brosnahan says, "I appreciated that Emily was a character who also helped drive the action and that Dominic and Tom wanted to figure out a way to include a female voice in the room but didn't then overlook the unique challenges that she would face as a woman at the time."

Emily needs to use plenty of wiles to manipulate the men around her. Her male superiors need to believe that they are calling the shots even when they are implementing plans conjured up by Emily. "To get what she wants, Emily must appear non-threatening. That's largely a period thing, but I also think it is a battle that women still fight today,' says Brosnahan. "I think Emily believes that she's the smartest person in the room or at the very least, she has something valuable to offer."

Brosnahan asked herself about Emily's decision to join the CIA: "Was it patriotism alone? Was it a desire to prove her worth in a male-dominated world, or even a male-dominated profession? Did she have a personal connection to this war that drove her?"

One of the big decisions that the filmmakers faced was the portrayal of the Soviet and American leaders. Should actors play them? Ultimately, they decided that an actor, Vladimir Chuprikov, should play Krushchev but for President Kennedy, they would portray him through the use of archival footage.

"The key thing about Penkovsky was that he had access to Khrushchev and the highest echelon of the Soviet system," says Cooke. "So you need to see Khrushchev to get a sense of Penkovsky being in the room. It's also why the Americans didn't want to let him go as a source."

By way of contrast, "JFK is such an iconic figure," says O'Connor. "He is so well known, especially to a western audience, his voice, his cadence, his look, and so we felt that having an actor portray him could take people out of the movie. Also, JFK doesn't interact with anyone in the movie, except John A. McCone, the CIA director, which is a fairly minor role in the script, so there was no need to have an actor portray him on screen."

"I remember my mum saying to me that people thought the world was going to end," says director Cooke. "She remembers people crowding into churches who had never been to church."

The filmmakers had to convey to a contemporary audience who know that there was no nuclear war that such a scenario was not only feasible but that many feared it would be inevitable.

Cooke says, "We started looking into how we could put that background into the film without ending up having to do lots of exposition about the Cuban Missile Crisis."

In October 1962, Soviet ballistic missiles were being deployed in Cuba. President Kennedy demanded their removal. When Khruschev refused, both sides began preparations for a nuclear war. For 13 days, a policy of brinksmanship saw the world facing the threat of nuclear war.

This sent many around the world into a state of panic. "What bought it home was Dominic describing the threat," says Cumberbatch. "The world sort of held its breath, it's not just a fight between two countries, it's every country in between them that would be affected."

O'Connor watched documentaries, newsreels and spoke to his parents as he incorporated the crisis into the screenplay, "Just trying to get a sense of that fear and helplessness that people felt that the world might end and there is not a God damn thing we can do about it."

"You had ships sailing to Cuba with missiles, you had the Americans armed and ready and you had everybody hovering over buttons and codes," says Cumberbatch. "It only takes a few hotheads in charge of the codes, a few polarised opinions and people shutting off and not having a dialogue for catastrophe to happen."

Cooke felt he could bring this sense of crisis to the screen: "I knew how that world should feel, at least in the U.K and I've always been interested in the Soviet Union and the politics and history of that time."

A generation had passed since the end of the Second World War, and new functional architecture had been appearing around the globe. The clothes were changing, but the swinging sixties had yet to arrive. Recreating the look and feel of the era was a monumental task. Cooke wanted to ensure that the sets and the costumes supported the action and dialogue.

The director and many of the heads of department had just worked on a film that had brought the 1960s to cinematic life. Cooke says, "We worked with a lot of the same team that did On Chesil Beach, the same cinematographer, costume designer, and production designer."

"I looked at a lot of spy movies and period movies set in the early sixties," says Cooke. "The interesting difference between films made in the sixties and those that have been made since the sixties is that the films from the sixties don't have that glamour about them, they are more real."

Production Designer Susie Davies says, "It's really difficult sometimes doing that era as it can become style over substance. You want the design to support the story, rather than to wave a flag saying 'Ooh, look at this that we did'."

"One of the things that I decided that I wanted to do was make Moscow and London feel similar," says Cooke. "They weren't that similar because they're different architecture and so on, but I wasn't going to do something that would exaggerate their differences."

The sets were designed to show the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both superpowers were pursuing initiatives trying to demonstrate that their way of doing things created a better life for their citizens and more advanced technology.

"There was this big epic feeling of the architecture during that time because of the competition between the two countries, particularly in the sixties with Brutalist architecture and Soviet architecture," says Davies. "For the British element, we decided that London would be very staid and solid."

To replicate the architecture of the era, the filmmakers scouted across Eastern Europe to find similar-looking buildings. Davies says, they knew what type of building they wanted, the architecture "was all about scale and power, oppressiveness and heaviness."

Given that more than five decades had passed since the events of the film, the filmmakers had to come up with ingenious ways of recreating the buildings. "Some of the exteriors of Moscow are in Prague and the Czech Republic, and some of the interiors are actually in the UK, so we mixed it up quite a bit," says Davies. "I don't think that there is any location that is in a single country."

For the CIA headquarters in Langley, the exteriors were shot in the Czech Republic and the interiors in London. The filmmakers took artistic license because at the time the CIA was in the process of moving into the building in Langley.

"We were slightly ambiguous because they'd only just moved into Langley towards the end of the period of our film, so we pushed the truth a little bit," says Davies. "In the real world, they would have been in a much more boring location, but it didn't change the impact of the story. Sometimes you have to be slightly ambiguous."

To help in the pursuit of realism, Davies picked artists and photographers who had an affinity to each country as reference points: "For Moscow, one of our main references was Henri Cartier-Bresson, a photographer who'd made fantastic trips to Moscow in the 1950s, for the US side of things, we looked at the work of Saul Leiter, and for the UK it was a mix of Norman Parkinson with Martin Parr."

There was a philosophy that "We didn't want to make it too gorgeous." Davies continues, "Some of the pictures and frames on the wall, they are slightly off, they are not put onto the most aesthetically pleasing place."

Producer Browning adds, "What Dominic did wonderfully was making it very clear that The Courier is very much of its time in the early 1960s and while it still is beautiful and stylized it's also clear that it's never bogged down by the weight of the period. The drama feels immediate and visceral."

Production designer Davies says, "We took away quite a lot of the colour and it became very grey. I think it was very easy for us since the bright colours of the sixties, the oranges and the greens and the blues, we tried to squeeze our palette into pretty quiet tones of those colours, so nothing shouted. We tried not to use too many curves and go too funky."

"One thing we did was limit the palette," says Cooke. "For example, we decided we were not going to have any red brick in the film. There's no red brick at all because we wanted something that felt harsher; we didn't want the world to feel soft and warm and quaint."

There was a similar effort to limit the palette for the clothing choices. These were conservative and not flamboyant characters, and they dressed accordingly. "We focussed on texture," says Cooke. "It wasn't like now, where everything is available, people didn't have that many clothes, someone middle class would have had two suits. People didn't have the disposable income and clothes weren't as cheap proportionately as they are now."

"It wasn't a glamorous time," concurs costume designer Keith Madden. "The everyday life of people wasn't as glamorous as we are led to believe on the silver screen. It wasn't the swinging sixties, it was more the dying fifties, so to speak."

Madden searched extensively to find photos of Wynne and Penkovsky as he tried to match the clothes in the film with what they wore. "Wynne had a very specific look. In every photo he was wearing one particular tie. We had to do some detective work to guess the colour of the tie as all the photos were black and white. Reading some of his books, we deduced that it was a University of Nottingham tie that he wore."

There was more trouble with deciphering Penkovsky's fashion choices. Madden says, "We don't know what he was wearing as much, as the only photo of him was before the events in the film."

"With the Russian fashion there was a lot more block colour," explains Madden. "There was more geometry and a lot of headscarves, heavy coats, and a lot more fur. Wearing fur for Russians was different from the glamour with which it would be perceived in America and the UK."

For the Brits, "There is a lot of texture in there, tweed and herringbone," says the costume designer. "We looked at a lot of films and I was quite influenced by The Spy Who Came In From The Cold."

The filmmakers felt that Sheila should be more fashionable than her husband: "Shelia is classier than Wynne, she was very much Mrs. Suburbia, but she was also modest."

For Emily, Madden was aware of the difficulties a woman would face in the workplace at the time because of the way they look. "She has these elegant, effeminate kinds of dresses and suits, and it was all to do with being an absolute professional within a situation of a group of men," says Madden. "We wanted her to look very serious."

Brosnahan believes the serious tone was a reflection of both what was happening in the sixties but also global politics today. She says, "I think in my lifetime, the only real reference I have, and it's not even close to having nuclear weapons pointed at you, has been President Trump poking the North Korean bear since he got into office. I suddenly heard friends of mine in New York City talk about knowing where their nearest fallout shelter was."

In the wake of the 2016 US Presidential election and the Cambridge Analytica privacy revelations, the relationship between Russia and America and the levels of spying between the two powers was making headlines. Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism has the ties between American and Russia been under such scrutiny.

The Courier seems to be part of the zeitgeist. Cumberbatch adds, "In the past four years, with Korea, Trump, China, and the pulling up all the old nuclear treaties between Russia and America, these events were happening as we were developing and shooting the film. So, The Courier felt a little bit urgent in a rather scary way."

Produced by FilmNation, 42, and SunnyMarch, directed by Dominic Cooke, The Courier is the incredible story of how an unheralded British civilian helped save the world.

Academy Award Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch is known for playing the title role of "Sherlock Holmes" in a role that has earned him international acclaim and several awards including The Primetime Emmy/In 2015 Benedict portrayed Alan Turing in the multi award winning film and several awards including The Primetime Emmy/In 2015 Benedict portrayed Alan Turing in the multi award winning film The Imitation Game which earned him a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Other big screen performances include the role of the dragon Smaug and the Necromancer in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, Khan in JJ Abrams' blockbuster Star Trek: Into Darkness, Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, Little' Charles Aiiken in August: Osage County, Ford in Steve McQueen's Oscar winning 12 Years A Slave and Billy Bulger in Black Mass.

Early TV roles included his incredibly powerful performance as Stephen Hawking, in the BBC's highly acclaimed drama Hawking which earned him his first BAFTA nomination. A second BAFTA nomination came in 2010 for his portrayal of Bernard in the BBC adaptation of Small Island. Benedict also starred as Christopher Stejens in the Tom Stoppard's BBC/HBO drama Parades End based on the acclaimed novels, also earning him an Emmy nomination.

In 2016 his depiction of Richard III in the BBC's Hollow Crown series cemented his place as one of the finest actors of his generation earning him another BAFTA nomination. Benedict joined the Marvel Universe as the titular character in 2016's Doctor Strange, reprising his role as Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. More recently, Benedict's performance in David Nicholls' adaptation of Edward St. Aubyn's beloved Patrick Melrose has earned him a BAFTA for Best Actor and Emmy and Golden Globe Best Actor nominations. Earlier this year, he appeared in the HBO/Channel 4 political drama Brexit: The Uncivil War and has just finished filming a film about the English artist Louis Wain.

Merab Ninidze ("Penkovsky") will next be seen starring as the title role of the feature film The Courier, based on a true story about two spies in the Cold War era. The highly anticipated film premieres at Sundance Film Festival 2020. Additionally, he starred in BBC/AMC's Emmy Award winning series McMafia, and the independent Georgian film My Happy Family, which was in competition at Sundance 2017.

Merab's career kicked off with a debut in Tengiz Abuladze's 1987 film Repentance which premiered and won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 40th Cannes Film Festival. A Georgian native, Merab has since been starring in US, UK, German, Russian and Georgian productions, most notably in the Academy Award Winning film Nowhere in Africa in 2003, A. A. German's entry for the Venice Film Festival 2006 Paper Soldier, Kornel Mundruczo's Jupiter's Moon which was at Cannes Film Festival 2017, the award-winning series Homeland and the upcoming feature film Without Remorse.

Rachel Brosnahan is an actor in the most distinguished sense. She has won an Emmy, a TCA Award, two Golden Globes, two Critics' Choice Awards and two Screen Actors Guild Awards for her performance as "Miriam 'Midge' Maisel" in the critically acclaimed series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. This year, she has earned another Emmy Nomination, Critics Choice Award Nomination and Screen Actors Guild Award Nomination for 'Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series'.

Since The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premiered on Amazon's streaming service in November 2017, the show has earned an Emmy, a Golden Globe and two Critics' Choice Awards for 'Best Comedy'. Set in the 1950's, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel centers on "Miriam 'Midge' Maisel," a 25-year-old sharp, sunny, energetic woman married and living with her husband and two children in New York. When Midge's husband leaves her for another woman, her life is turned upside down, and she makes the decision to enter the workforce as well as start building a life as a standup comic with the help of her manager, played by Alex Borstein. The show returned for its third season on December 6th, 2019 on Amazon Prime and has been recently renewed for Season 4.

In June, Rachel signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios to develop TV series exclusive to Amazon Prime Video. It was recently announced that she will produce and star in I'm Your Woman, an Amazon Studio movie directed by Julia Hart and co-written with Jordan Harowitz. Additional film credits include Patriots' Day, Burn Country, Boomtown, The Finest Hours, Louder Than Bombs and Beautiful Creatures.

Brosnahan can also now be heard as a voice of a character in the computer-animated comedy film, Spies In Disguise, alongside Tom Holland and Will Smith which was released in theaters on December 25th. In the past, Rachel has narrated the Bloomberg/National Geographic's climate change documentary, Paris to Pittsburgh, which premiered on National Geographic last December and was also the voice of the recurring role of Princess Chloe in season 3 of Disney's Elena of Avalor.

On Series Television, she is known for her breakout role as "Rachel Posner" in Netflix's groundbreaking series House of Cards, which earned her Emmy and Online Film and Television Award nominations as well as a SAG nomination for 'Best Ensemble'. In addition, she has starred in two seasons of the critically-acclaimed WGN series Manhattan and was an Executive Producer of a series adaptation of Corey Camperchioli's short film Femme.

On Stage, Brosnahan starred as "Desdemona" in Sam Gold's off-Broadway production of Othello opposite Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo. She made her Broadway debut in 2013 in The Big Knife opposite Bobby Cannavale.

Rachel is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where she studied at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute.

She currently serves on the Board of Covenant House, which oversees programs for homeless youth and has been an Ambassador for Global Citizen for the past six years.

Irish-born RADA graduate Jessie Buckley's performances include starring as Princess Marya in BBC hitadaptation of Tolstoy's epic novel War And Peace, starring opposite Tom Hardy in historic drama series Taboo and working alongside Stephen Campbell Moore, Ben Miles and Jessica Raine in the BBC One drama series The Last Post written by Peter Moffat.

She was recently seen in the BBC One adaptation of The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins' classic psychological thriller adapted for television by Fiona Seres with a cast including Ben Hardy and Charles Dance.

In 2018 Jessie was the lead role in Michael Pearce's critically acclaimed film Beast, co-starring Johnny Flynn and Geraldine James. Buckley's most recent productions include the leading role in Tom Harper's Wild Rose alongside Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo, and Misbehaviour with Keira Knightley and Gugu Mbatha Raw.

Buckley has recently filmed The Voyage Of Doctor Dolittle alongside Robert Downey Jr., and the TV series Chernobyl for Sister Pictures.

Buckley's theatre credits include two productions simultaneously as part of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's inaugural season: the first, as Perdita in Branagh's The Winter's Tale; and the second as Muriel in Harlequinade, opposite an almost identical (and stellar) cast. In film, Buckley has starred as Miranda in Jeremy Herrin's The Tempest, opposite Roger Allam. Further theatre credits include: A Little Night Music at the Menier Chocolate Factory; as Princess Katherine opposite Jude Law in Henry V; and as Constanze in Amadeus, alongside Joshua McGuire and Rupert Everett at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

In 2017 Buckley was chosen as one of Screen International's Stars of Tomorrow and was also selected to be one of BAFTA's Breakthrough Brits. Buckley won the award for Most Promising Newcomer at the 2018 British Independent Film Awards and in 2019, was nominated as one of BAFTA's EE Rising Stars.

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