“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine. “
Few injustices in the world have equalled that meted out to Alan Turing. Where would the world be today without him? He can justly be considered to be the father of modern computing, and yet as a homosexual he was prosecuted for gross indecency, chemically castrated and his genius thrown away by a seemingly uncaring and ungrateful nation that drove him to early suicide. (God bless Her Majesty, for giving Turing an official posthumous pardon last Christmas).
Such is the distressing true(ish) story told in “The Imitation Game” starring the omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch. The film largely centres on his contribution to the war effort at Bletchley Park in decrypting encoded German communications through the Enigma machine – a fearsomely complex device for randomising messages. I say “true(ish)” since having done a bit more digging into the background on this, the Imitation Game is not quite the story it purports to be. There is a muttered line by Cumberbatch about the “contribution of the Poles”, but in reality it seems that the early Enigma machines were actually first cracked by some of the leading Polish mathematicians (notably Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski). The Bletchley Park team only came in to assist when the German’s added a new layer of complexity to the machines. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story though: this simplification of the story probably helps a lot.
Turing is portrayed – no doubt fairly accurately – as a spiky, anti-social and generally unlikable individual, despised by his co-workers until such time as his genius starts to earn him respect. His comrade in the Bletchley Park branch of ‘Asperger’s Anonymous’ is the equally spiky mathematician Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who he recognises an intellectual kin-ship with. Their rather unorthodox relationship, given his sexual orientation, forms another key element of the film.
Flashing backwards and forwards (without warning) between three time periods: Turing’s unhappy school-days; the Bletchley Park war years; and his dogged pursuit by a 50’s cop (Rory Kinnear), a story that you might expect to be a fairly dry biopic zips along with enormous vim. Whilst this is a film that many critics will turn their noses up at as a ‘crowd-pleaser’, you can guarantee that it is one that will make the BBC Bank Holiday film schedules regularly for the next 50 years!
On the acting side, the cast is excellent. Cumberbatch must be a strong candidate for at least a BAFTA if not an Oscar for his portrayal of Turing. There must always have been a danger with this casting of him flipping into “Sherlock” mode, given the similarity of the characters, and yet you rarely equate the two performances which is quite a trick to pull off. Knightley is also excellent in a ‘terribly British’ role. Charles Dance, Mark Strong (a ‘goody’ for once!) and Downton’s Allen Leech all deliver excellent supporting performances. But particularly effective is Matthew Goode (“A Single Man”, “Stoker” but perhaps best known to TV viewers as Finn Polmar in “The Good Wife”) who is a magnetic big-screen performer and who should be getting more leading actor roles.
Also outstanding is young Alex Lawther as Turing the schoolboy who delivers a memorable performance in a challenging role bringing to mind the screen presence of Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense”: a young man to watch for the future.
The decidedly non-English director is Norwegian-born Morten Tyldum, who directed the outstandingly black but entertaining “Headhunters” back in 2011.
Also likely for BAFTA recognition is the Art Direction in this film (Production Design by Maria Djurkovic), which paints a nicely nostalgic vision of war-time Britain, and the costume design by Sammy Sheldon. The effective music score is once again by Alexandre Desplat – – does that man ever sleep?
By the way, the title – “The Imitation Game” – comes from a famous paper that Turing wrote in 1950 and refers to what is now known as the “Turing Test” – the test to see if a user can distinguish whether the ‘person’ they are communicating with is human or machine. (This has a nice double meaning in the film given that Turing is imitating being a heterosexual for legal reasons). In many ways in chronicling the history of gay rights in the UK, this film makes a nice ‘prequel’ to another of this year’s great films “Pride” – whilst Turing’s prosecution for gross indecency was in 1952, the last public prosecution of this type was in 1967 with Pride being set only 18 years later. We live in more civilised times, thank God.
You can tell that we are rapidly approaching the awards season again by the quality of the films on offer. This is a great watch, particularly for a slightly more mature audience that values acting, story and emotion over bangs and special effects. Highly recommended.
Fad Rating: FFFFf.