Speaking of the third act, it’s hard to call this a spoiler, because you could easily look this up in history books, but things go horribly wrong as Penkovski and Wynne’s activities are uncovered, and both men are caught and captured. Both men are incarcerated in a cold Russian cell, cut off from the world, interrogated, beaten, and tortured. The friendship between the two that was built over time ultimately becomes the only thing that kept them from ratting each other out to stop the torture. Revealing the plan or even stating that he was a full-fledged British spy could have gotten Wynne his freedom years sooner. Greville wouldn’t do it.
Honestly, it’s this third act that makes Ironbark worth watching. Wynne is not 007, he’s a regular guy and we witness every brutal moment of his time in a Russian gulag. Benedict Cumberbatch has the average guy role nailed down. He’s just one of us. Just look at his work in The Imitation Game and even as Doctor Strange, he punches no one and kicks no one. All he does is wave his arms around. There’s no stunt training needed here. In fact, for the final moments of the film, Cumberbatch had to lose a significant amount of weight to look emaciated.
“Couldn’t they have gone another step further and made it an Asian female?”
Here’s a good discussion starter. Rachel Brosnahan’s role as Emily Donovan is actually a compilation of several men in the CIA. Writer Tom O’Connor thought it would be interesting…in this current climate, to compile several men together and change the character’s gender. He wanted to do this for “diversity” but to also show how a woman in this particular position at the CIA during the ’60s would act and be treated and Brosnahan is fantastic in the role. Couldn’t they have gone another step further and made it an Asian female? (Just kidding…maybe). The question now becomes how much latitude does Hollywood get to change the facts of history for the role reason to appear “woke?”
Ironbark is another chapter in the untold stories of the Cold War that can finally come to light. Greville Wynne is a hero and a humble one at that. Although the thrills and intrigue of his story aren’t that remarkable, it’s the time he spends in a Russian prison accused of spying for the West that sets Ironbark apart from similar stories like Bridge of Spies. Benedict Cumberbatch proves yet again he’s a star and Merab Ninidze is equally brilliant at his Russian counterpart.
Ironbark premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.