Review: ‘The Courier’ (2021), starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley

March 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Courier” (Photo by Liam Daniel/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Courier” (2021) 

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1960s in Moscow, London and briefly in Langley, Virginia, the spy drama “The Courier” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class, primarily those who work for the government.

Culture Clash: A British businessman becomes a spy for MI6, as the Cold War between the Soviet Union and Western countries begins to escalate under the possibility of nuclear weapon attacks.

Culture Audience: “The Courier” will appeal primarily to people who like espionage movies that go beyond the political intrigue and examine the toll that spying can take on family life.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan in “The Courier” (Photo by Liam Daniel/Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

“The Courier,” which is inspired by true events, aims to put a spotlight on people who have been historically underrated in preventing a nuclear war between the then-Soviet Union and countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. The main characters of this movie just happen to be spies. Elevated by above-average acting, “The Courier” is not an essential spy movie, but it’s good enough for people who enjoy this genre.

Politicians tend to get the most credit for de-escalating international tensions that could turn into war. However, “The Courier” (directed by Dominic Cooke and written by Tom O’Connor) makes a case that spies have also been instrumental in preventing wars. It’s pretty obvious why spies don’t get as much credit as politicians do: Because spies’ work is secretive and undercover, their identities as spies cannot be revealed, unless their cover is blown in some way.

That’s what happened to the two spies who are at the center of this story: Greville Wynne (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) from the United Kingdom and Oleg Penkovsky (played by Merab Ninidze) from the Soviet Union. Their paths collided in 1960, when Oleg, a longtime bureaucrat, became increasingly alarmed over then-Soviet Union premier Nikita Khrushchev’s nuclear threats against Western countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. (The partnership between these two spies was also portrayed in the 1985 BBC miniseries “Wynne and Penkovsky,” which A&E televised in the U.S. under the name “The Man From Moscow.”)

“The Courier” opens with a scene in Moscow on August 12, 1960, showing Premier Khrushchev giving an inflammatory speech in a closed-door meeting with other Russian bureaucrats. What’s said in that meeting is enough for Oleg to do what he had probably been contemplating for quite some time: He becomes a whistleblower who warns the United States about these imminent nuclear weapons threats. Oleg meets with two unidentified American men at night, gives them some paperwork, and urges them to take this paperwork to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Four months later at MI6 headquarters in London, a briskly confident and young CIA operative named Emily Donovan has a meeting with two MI6 operatives: Arthur Temple “Dickie” Franks (played by Angus Wright) and Bertrand (played by Anton Lesser), whose last name is not mentioned in the movie. (In real life, Franks would later become the head of MI6 from 1979 to 1982.) Emily walks into the meeting and tells these older men, “I’ve brought you boys a present.”

The “present” is information that’s a dream come true for any intelligence agency that wants to spy on the Soviet Union: A Soviet spy has offered to become a double agent for the CIA because of his concerns over Khrushchev’s erratic personality and increasing possibilities that Khrushchev will start a nuclear war against the nations that are the Soviet Union’s enemies. This Soviet spy is Oleg, who wants to smuggle out information by a courier.

The CIA can’t send an American courier to be Oleg’s contact in the Soviet Union, because it would be too obvious. And so, the CIA has sent Emily to enlist the help of MI6 to send a Brit to Moscow to become Oleg’s courier. In the meeting with the MI6 officials, Emily says that the selected courier should be someone whom the Russians would least expect: a person with no history of working for a government agency.

Greville’s name comes up in the meeting because he’s a businessman who frequently travels outside of the United Kingdom. In real life, he had already visited Moscow several times by the time he became a spy. In the movie, Greville is portrayed as someone who is so unfamiliar with Moscow, that Oleg is the first person to introduce Greville to the city. And in the movie, Greville doesn’t know any Russian when he first arrives in Moscow, so Oleg is often his translator.

In the meeting between the CIA and MI6 operatives, Emily gives Dickie and Bertrand a brief background on Oleg so that they know that he’s a government insider who can be trusted. Oleg is a former military colonel and artillery officer who was decorated 13 times during World War II. He lives in Moscow and works for the GRU, the Soviet Union/Russia’s military intelligence agency. But since Oleg is a spy, his cover is overseeing the state committee on scientific research.

“The Courier” was originally titled “Ironbark,” which is Oleg’s code name as a spy. The title change was no doubt to shift the focus more on the Greville Wynne character, who gets more screen time and who is portrayed by a better-known actor. The movie is a story about two very different spies who become unlikely partners with a common goal: to protect their respective countries from engaging in a nuclear war. However, “The Courier” shows more of Greville’s personality and home life than it does for Oleg.

Oleg lives a quiet and unassuming life with his wife Vera (played by Maria Mironova) and their daughter Nina (played by Emma Penzina), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. By all appearances Oleg and Vera have a happy marriage and are loving parents to Nina. Oleg and Vera are both even-tempered and have mutual respect for each other. Later in the story, it’s revealed that Vera knows that Oleg is a spy.

Greville has a very different personality and marriage. A hard-drinking businessman, Greville is sometimes quick to lose his temper. And his marriage to his wife Sheila (played by Jessie Buckley) has become troubled due to Greville past infidelity. At the beginning of the story, Sheila and Greville have become distant from each other. It’s mentioned several times throughout the movie that Greville’s infidelity has broken Sheila’s trust in Greville, but she’s slowly trying to trust him again.

Sheila and Greville have a 10-year-old son named Andrew (played by Keir Hills), who sometimes becomes the target of Greville’s verbal tirades if Andrew does something harmless to set off Greville’s temper. For example, a scene in the movie shows Sheila, Greville and Andrew spending some family time together on a camping trip. Because the weather forecast predicted possible rain, Andrew was put in charge of bringing the family’s raincoats on the trip, but Andrew forgot to bring these items. When Greville finds out, he berates Andrew until Sheila tells him to stop, and she comforts Andrew by saying that Greville didn’t really mean his insulting remarks.

These glimpses into Greville’s home life show that he wasn’t the type of ideal hero that he could have been portrayed as in this movie. Rather, he was a very flawed human being who found himself caught up in a situation that ended up spiraling out of his control. When Greville is first approached by MI6 and the CIA to become a spy, these intelligence agencies already know that he’s a heavy drinker, but they want to take a chance on him because he can have a very charming personality and because he adapts quickly to foreign environments.

In the movie, it’s portrayed that MI6’s plan to lure Greville into becoming a spy starts with a phone call from Dickie, using the alias James Dobby and pretending to be an official from the U.K.’s board of trade. Greville had met “James” the previous year at some type of business conference. In the phone call, Dickie/James asks to meet with Greville for lunch to discuss a possible business opportunity.

When Greville arrives for the lunch, he’s surprised to see someone else is with Dickie: a young American woman, who introduces herself as Helena Talbot. Of course, that’s not her real name. Helena Talbot is really CIA operative Emily Donovan.

During this lunch conversation, “James” and “Helena” ask Greville how he would feel about doing business in the Soviet Union and what he would do to ingratiate himself with the government officials in Moscow. It doesn’t take long for Greville to figure out that “James” and “Helena” are really spies, but they won’t tell Greville their real names when he asks. And he wants no part of what they seem to be proposing.

Dickie tries to persuade Greville by saying that Greville’s spy work would be “nothing dodgy, nothing illegal. It would be a real service to Great Britain.” Emily adds, “And to the world.” Greville is told repeatedly that all he has to do is conduct business in Moscow as a salesman and bring back some paperwork that will be given to him by a contact person.

Greville still isn’t convinced because he thinks his life might be in danger if he becomes a spy. Dickie/”James” tells Greville that Greville being a middle-aged, non-athletic man who has a drinking problem doesn’t make him a spy stereotype of a dashing, physically fit hero with combat skills. Dickie adds, “My point is if this mission were the least bit dangerous, you really are the last man we’d send.” Greville replies with a sarcastic tone, “Thank you for putting it so delicately.”

Of course, Greville ultimately agrees to the mission. It’s implied that he said yes out of a sense of patriotism but also out of a sense of curiosity and probably to boost his ego. In that fateful first meeting, Dickie mentioned that he knows Greville spent time in the military doing office work only and not being in combat. Agreeing to this spy mission was probably Greville’s way of proving to himself that he really could be useful to the U.K. government.

“The Courier” tends to drag a little when it shows the actual back-and-forth of Oleg and Greville doing their spy transactions. After all, there’s not much excitement to be had when all Greville has to do is bring some paperwork back with him to the United Kingdom and hand off the documents to MI6. Oleg and Greville grow to like and respect each other, and they eventually meet each other’s wives and kids.

The real tension in the movie begins when Oleg and Greville are in danger of being exposed and punished by the Russian government. People who already know what happened in real life won’t be surprised by how it’s portrayed in the movie. (This part of the movie won’t be described in this review, since it’s considered spoiler information.) But it’s enough to say that the greatest strength of “The Courier” is in how it skillfully portrays the often-complex layers of loyalties that spies often have and how they have to choose between betraying a government or betraying an individual.

Greville keeps his spying activities a secret from Sheila for as long as possible. He tells her that his frequent trips to Moscow are because he wants to “open a door to the West” for Russians to do more business with Western companies such as his. Greville is described as working in sales, but the movie never really makes clear what he’s selling. (In real life, he was electrical engineer who became a business salesperson.)

At first, Greville’s trips to Moscow seem to boost his confidence. When he gets home, he’s much more amorous with Sheila, who is pleasantly surprised that their sex life has markedly improved. But as time wears on, the stress of his spy work starts to get to him, and he becomes more short-tempered. And because he is so vague with Sheila about what he does while he’s in Moscow, it isn’t long before Sheila starts to suspect that Greville is cheating on her.

“The Courier” also covers how the 1962 Bay of Pigs crisis in Cuba had a drastic effect on this spy mission. This political development ramps up the urgency, as well as the life-threatening risks, in what Oleg and Greville are doing. The last third of “The Courier” is the best part of the movie, as Cumberbatch in particular shows a range of emotions under extreme circumstances that make “The Courier” a compelling story to watch.

Under the solid direction of Cooke, “The Courier” isn’t a groundbreaking movie and follows a lot of conventions that are often seen in spy films. For example, there are the inevitable scenes of a spy making copies of important files and furtively looking around out of fear of being caught. The movie might be considered a bit dull in some areas for anyone who won’t have the patience to see the whole film.

What’s not conventional about “The Courier” and is actually quite refreshing is that it doesn’t have the tired cliché of the primary female spy character using her sexuality to get what she wants. The character of Emily is both intelligent and charismatic, but she’s not perfect, as she makes a critical error in judgment during one part of the story. There are some veiled references to the sexism that Emily no doubt experienced as a woman in the male-dominated CIA. But since she’s not the center of the story, the movie doesn’t expound on any gender discrimination within these types of government agencies in the U.S., the U.K. or in the former Soviet Union.

Through the Emily character, “The Courier” shows that even though the U.S.’s CIA and the U.K.’s MI6 teamed up for this mission, there was still some rivalry between these two allied countries. In a meeting at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, she is seen giving a briefing to one of her supervisors. Emily tells him that she’s good at fooling the Brits by making the Brits think they’re in charge, because she often plays the part of someone who’s a naïve agent who’s eager to learn from her more experienced counterparts. The point of this scene is to demonstrate that Emily’s loyalty will be to the U.S., first and foremost.

All of the cast members play their roles well, but since Greville’s perspective is the one that gets the most importance, Cumberbatch’s performance is at the heart of the film, and he admirably rises to the challenge. The movie could have used more insight into Oleg’s character to show how being a double agent affected his state of mind. For example, the scene with the Wynne family on a camping trip wasn’t essential and could have been substituted with a more relevant scene showing Oleg’s personal trials and tribulations. As it stands, “The Courier” has a few areas that needed improving, but the overall end result is a worthwhile option if people are in the mood to watch a retro spy movie.

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released “The Courier” in U.S. cinemas on March 19, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is April 16, 2021. “The Courier” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Kindred,’ starring Tamara Lawrance, Jack Lowden and Fiona Shaw

November 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Fiona Shaw and Tamara Lawrance in “Kindred” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Kindred”

Directed by Joe Marcantonio

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural part of England, the dramatic thriller “Kindred” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person and one Indian person) representing the working-class, the middle-class and the wealthy.

Culture Clash: After the father of her unborn child dies, a pregnant woman is held captive by the domineering paternal grandmother who wants to raise the child as her own.

Culture Audience: “Kindred” will appeal primarily to people who are looking for an artsier, British version of a Lifetime movie, but without a predictable ending.

Chloe Pirrie, Fiona Shaw, Tamara Lawrance and Jack Lowden in “Kindred” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

Just like the pregnant protagonist in “Kindred” is essentially imprisoned by her unborn child’s domineering grandmother, viewers will often be frustrated by how this dramatic film can hold people hostage with the hope that things will get better for the protagonist. “Kindred” succeeds in conveying the stifling atmosphere of someone being held captive, under the guise of “it’s for your own good.” But this oppressive tone is almost to a fault, because parts of the movie drag with too much repetition and the sense that the captured heroine could’ve made better choices to get out of her predicament. The movie’s ending will disappoint a great deal of the audience who might be expecting something more formulaic.

However, what will keep most viewers interested in the movie are the compelling performances of the two actresses who portray the women at the center of this power struggle over an unborn child. “Kindred” (which takes place in England) shows hints of being a horror film, but it’s mostly a dramatic thriller about a family feud. It’s one of those movies where the villain doesn’t think she’s evil but sincerely believes that what’s she’s doing is morally right and in the best interest of her family.

“Kindred” is the feature-film debut of director Joe Marcantonio, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason McClogan. There are parts of the movie where you have to wonder if the screenwriters actually consulted with enough women (especially any women who’ve been pregnant) for some level of authenticity, because some of the actions of the expectant mother in this story just don’t ring true for a pregnant woman who’s trying to save herself and her unborn child. Or maybe this is just a case of a movie that knows it’s got to fill up its feature-length time by having the protagonist make dumb decisions.

At any rate, the movie’s target audience seems to be primarily women, and yet the filmmakers aren’t too concerned with filling in some blanks about the main characters that women usually like to know about for movies like “Kindred.” The movie largely redeems itself in a scene with a heart-to-heart conversation between the heroine and the chief villain to fill in some of those blanks. (It’s the best scene in the movie.) But the romance that sets off the series of events in this movie is barely explained.

In the beginning of “Kindred,” Ben Clayton (played by Edward Holcroft) and his live-in girlfriend Charlotte (played by Tamara Lawrance), who appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s, are getting ready to go over to his widowed mother’s house for a visit that the couple is dreading. Ben tells Charlotte, “She’s going to hate me,” as an indication that they’re going to tell his mother some news that will make her angry and/or sad. Charlotte replies, “Stop worrying. It’s going to be okay.”

Unfortunately, the movie never mentions why Ben and Charlotte are together and for how long. It would certainly go a long way in explaining why viewers are supposed to believe that this couple is compatible and have made a life-changing choice that they are now going to tell Ben’s mother: Ben and Charlotte are planning to move to Australia. Viewers are supposed to assume that Ben and Charlotte are a happy couple just because they’re together, without getting any sense of what Ben and Charlotte might have in common or what their life goals are when they get to Australia.

Ben and Charlotte arrive at his mother’s house, which is a very large manor in an unnamed rural part of England. Ben is very nervous, while Charlotte is much calmer. Ben’s bossy mother Margaret (played by Fiona Shaw) isn’t the only one in the house who’s got him on edge. There’s a man named Thomas (played by Jack Lowden) who lives there and who’s about the same age as Ben.

Thomas has a very odd relationship with Margaret, who treats Thomas like a son but also treats him like a servant who’s at her beck and call, 24 hours a day. Thomas acts as the house’s butler, chef and handyman. He’s very amiable and eager-to-please, but it’s clear that he will do anything that Margaret tells him to do. Charlotte later finds out the hard way.

Ben is noticeably jealous of Thomas, especially when Margaret describes Thomas as Ben’s “brother.” Ben is quick to reply every time: “He’s not my brother.” It doesn’t come out until later in this movie (and this isn’t really a spoiler) why Thomas is living with Margaret.

Ben’s father William died of cancer when he was a child. Years later, when Ben was a teenager, Margaret got romantically involved with an abusive man, who came to live in the manor with his son. That son was Thomas.

It’s never made clear in the movie if Margaret actually married this abusive man, but she describes the relationship later in the movie as “the biggest mistake of my life.” It also explains why she treats Thomas like a son, because Thomas has lived with Margaret, ever since he and his father moved into the house. Thomas’ father died years ago when Thomas was a teenager. His cause of death is revealed in the movie.

This reason for why Thomas is considered “family” to Margaret isn’t revealed until the last third of the film, but it actually would’ve been better to have revealed this information sooner in the film. Up until then, viewers have to keep guessing how Thomas came into Margaret’s life, why she treats Thomas like a son, and why she’s closer to Thomas than she is to her own biological son.

When Ben and Charlotte tell Margaret their big news about moving to Australia, Margaret predictably takes it very hard. She can’t believe that Ben wouldn’t want to stay in England and live at the manor, which he is sure to inherit from her. Ben tells his mother that he doesn’t care about the manor. Margaret gets so upset that she abruptly leaves the room. Thomas invites them to stay for the lunch that was prepared, but Ben and Charlotte decide that the visit has already gone badly, so they both decide to leave.

It’s never really stated what Ben does for a living, but Charlotte works as an outdoor employee at a farm. All the movie shows her doing at work is shoveling hay at a horse stable, when she suddenly vomits. Her co-worker Jane (played by Chloe Pirrie) is nearby and comes to her aid. Charlotte is feeling dizzy, so they decide to go to the nearest hospital to get Charlotte some medical assistance.

Charlotte then gets some news that’s a surprise to her but not a surprise to anyone who knows that when a woman of childbearing age suddenly vomits and feels dizzy in a movie, chances are that means she’s pregnant. Charlotte doesn’t have her own doctor because the doctor who ends up treating her during this pregnancy is named Dr. Richards (played by Anton Lesser), who seems to be the chief doctor in this small-town medical facility. Charlotte meets Dr. Richards for the first time during this hospital visit. And what do you know? He happens to be Margaret’s doctor too.

Why doesn’t Charlotte have her own doctor in a nation with universal health care? It’s never explained why, but viewers can speculate that Charlotte probably mistrusts doctors because Charlotte’s mother (who is either dead or totally estranged from her) had a history of mental illness. Her mother, who used to be a piano teacher, was diagnosed with perinatal psychosis and postpartum depression. In other words, the mental illness was exacerbated by the pregnancy and birth of Charlotte.

Needless to say, Charlotte had a very unhappy childhood. It’s never explained who really raised Charlotte and at what point in her life Charlotte cut off communication with her mother. But it’s clear, based on Charlotte’s negative reaction to finding out that she’s pregnant, Charlotte doesn’t think that she’s ready to become a mother and she has some deep-seated fears that she could pass on mental-illness genes to her unborn child. One of the first things that she asks Dr. Richards when he tells her that she’s pregnant is how she can get an abortion. He advises her to discuss the pregnancy with Ben first.

But Charlotte doesn’t really get a chance to do that, because by the time she returns home to the modest cottage that she shares with Ben, he has already decorated it with pregnancy congratulations. How did Ben find out? Dr. Richards told Margaret about Charlotte’s pregnancy, and Margaret told Ben.

It’s a blatant violation of patient/doctor confidentiality and something that could get a doctor in trouble. Charlotte knows that, and she half-jokingly says that she could report Dr. Richards for this violation. Ben’s enthusiasm over the pregnancy slowly makes her change her mind about having an abortion. However, she ignores this red flag that the doctor would go behind her back and violate her patient privacy.

Although Charlotte changes her mind about the abortion and decides to keep the baby, one thing that she hasn’t changed her mind about is moving to Australia with Ben. Margaret assumes that Ben and Charlotte will get married before the baby is born and that the couple will want to stay in England and live in the manor, but Margaret is wrong about all of those assumptions. Ben and Charlotte are firm in telling her that they have no plans to get married and they are still moving to Australia.

Charlotte and Ben try to comfort Margaret by telling her that they can still keep in touch through visits and videoconferencing, but Margaret flies into a rage and tells them how ungrateful they are and that they’re making a big mistake. Margaret screams, “You are not stealing my flesh and blood to go to the other side of the planet!” Margaret also cruelly says that it would be easier for Charlotte to decide to move to Australia because Charlotte has no family, but Margaret can’t understand why Ben would want to move.

Ben and Charlotte reach a stalemate with Margaret, but the couple remains in solidarity to continue with what was planned. Their lives take a tragic turn when Ben is doing some work in a stable, he accidentally gets kicked in the head by a horse, and he dies in the hospital. Charlotte and Margaret are devastated, of course. Thomas is also saddened, but Ben’s death doesn’t affect him as deeply as it does Margaret and Charlotte.

When they get the news at the hospital that Ben has died, Margaret blurts out to Charlotte that it’s Charlotte’s fault that Ben died. Charlotte becomes enraged and lunges at Margaret and starts to strangle her. Thomas is able to break up the altercation by pulling Charlotte off of Margaret. The implication is clear: Charlotte can be a tough and violent fighter, but she doesn’t really act that way for most of the movie.

Charlotte doesn’t have any family or friends to turn to during her overwhelming grief. And she gets more bad news a few days later when Margaret tells her that Ben had stopped paying the mortgage on the cottage (which was in his name) and it’s being sold in foreclosure. Really? That quickly? This is the part of the movie where a lot of viewers might yell at the screen that Margaret is probably lying.

After all, it’s clear that Ben feared and mistrusted his mother so much that he wanted to move far, far away from her and sever any financial ties he had to her. It doesn’t make sense that Charlotte would blindly trust Margaret, even though Margaret makes a half-hearted apology for the mean-spirited remarks that she previously made. And then if you factor in that Dr. Richards can’t be trusted either, you have a recipe for disaster.

Meanwhile, Thomas has already gone to the cottage, packed up Charlotte’s possessions, and brought them to the manor. Charlotte agrees to temporarily stay at the manor until the child is born. The movie makes it looks like Charlotte is so consumed with grief that she can’t be bothered to find another place to live.

However, “Kindred” has a major plot hole because Charlotte never bothers to look into Ben’s financial affairs now that she’s going to be a single mother raising his child. Did Ben have a will? Did he have life insurance? Did Charlotte and Ben have any joint bank accounts? What are the laws in England when it comes to what a child can inherit if the parents were not married but living together in a common-law domestic partner situation?

These are the things an expectant mother in Charlotte’s situation would think about if the father of her child suddenly dies. But these issues are never mentioned in “Kindred.” It’s why the biggest flaw of this movie is how it treats Charlotte as if she’s an idiot.

Charlotte’s willful ignorance kind of contradicts this image that the filmmakers want Charlotte to have of someone who’s been on her own for a while and supposedly knows how to take care of herself. You’d never know it though, by the way they portray Charlotte as this helpless, pitiful and broken person who lets Margaret take over her life.

Faster than you can say “weak-willed doormat,” Margaret convinces Charlotte that her only option is to stay in the manor until the baby is born. Margaret tells Charlotte that she can still move to Australia after the baby is born, but viewers watching this movie can easily see that Margaret has no intention of letting that happen.

Charlotte and Ben being in an interracial relationship is never mentioned as a problem for old-fashioned and stuck-up Margaret. Margaret seems to have more of a problem with Charlotte being from a lower social class than Ben, and she doesn’t want her grandchild in a working-class environment. Margaret expresses some sexism when she openly declares to Charlotte that she hopes that the child will be a boy.

Margaret tells Charlotte that Dr. Richards has ordered Charlotte to be on strict bed rest until the baby is born. But there’s more than just bed rest that Margaret and Thomas use as a means to keep Charlotte confined to the manor. And sure enough, Charlotte soon finds out that the front gates to the manor are padlocked with heavy chains.

Charlotte gets scolded by Margaret for requests to go outside for a simple walk on the manor’s property or to visit Ben’s grave (he’s buried on the property next to his father) or to do anything outside of the manor. In the rare instances where Charlotte is allowed to leave the house, Thomas must always accompany her. Charlotte becomes more isolated to the point where she’s not even allowed to visit Dr. Richards for prenatal care. Against Charlotte’s objections, Margaret has decided that Charlotte will give birth at the manor, not in a hospital.

And things take a very sinister and creepy turn when Charlotte suspects that she is being drugged. On one occasion, she finds remnants of a crushed pill in the tea that Thomas gives her. And Thomas tells her that she wakes up screaming from nightmares, but she can’t remember ever doing it.

And one morning, she wakes up and is startled to find a fully clothed Thomas sleeping next to her in bed, on top of the bed covers. He’s apologetic but he tells her that she had nightmares the night before and begged him to stay with her. It’s another incident that Charlotte says that she doesn’t remember.

Does Charlotte try to escape? Of course, she does. But she makes some really bad, bungling decisions that get in the way of her escape efforts. Does she try to call for help? During the chaotic ride to the hospital when Ben got injured, Thomas claimed that Charlotte’s phone was broken. He promises to get it fixed, but he never does. And when she does get access to a phone, she doesn’t call the police. She turns to other people for help, and that ends up being a very big mistake.

“Kindred” tries to bring some spooky elements into the story, by constantly featuring crows showing up outside at suspenseful moments. And when Charlotte is sleeping, an image of a horse keeps appearing, but it’s implied that horse is part of her dreams. There’s no real supernatural meaning for any of these animals. Margaret isn’t a secret witch and this isn’t a horror story about the manor being haunted by evil spirits.

Instead, the movie goes back to the same repetition of Charlotte trying to think of ways to escape and her efforts somehow being thwarted. Does Charlotte escape? Does she give birth? And if so, what happens to the baby?

Those questions are answered in the movie, which is mainly worth watching for the battle of wills between the heroine and the villain, since Lawrance and Shaw give performances that add depth to their roles that would have been too shallow if portrayed by less-talented actresses. These performances elevate the quality of “Kindred,” which has a lot of characteristics of being a mediocre “woman in peril” movie that will leave some viewers cold.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Kindred” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 6, 2020.