NOTE: As this film has not been released in all territories at the time of writing, there are some plot points that could be considered as slight spoilers.
Normally, I’d be on the site writing about all stuff Whovian, or at the very least something geek related. However, I want to break this habit this once to write about a film that is gaining a lot of buzz at present, “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
For those who don’t know the plot of this film, “The Imitation Game” follows the story of mathematician and logician Alan Turing. Primarily set during the Second World War, the film sees Turing and his team, including rival Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and best friend Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), seek to crack the Nazi Enigma cypher system. It also looks back to his teenage years at boarding school and his post-war conviction for maintaining a homosexual relationship that led to him having to endure the indignity of Government enforced hormone “therapy” and his suicide at the age of 41.
I have to admit to knowing very little about Alan Turing, both the man and the contribution that he actually made to to the war effort. So, due to my interest in the Second World War and the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch was to play the lead as Turing, I decided to see this film on the first day of release. Over the two hours running time, I was treated to not only a fantastic historical drama/thriller, but a film with a very human core and, despite the foreknowledge of how it would end, it has a great deal of dry British wit within it.
The storyline by Graham Moore, based on Andrew Hodges’ book “Alan Turing: The Enigma”, the story moves you throughout three key time periods starting with Turing’s arrest in Manchester in 1951. However, it doesn’t dwell in this time period, choosing to focus on the World War II time period whilst providing snippets of background from Turing’s youth which seeks to provide an insight to who he is and the reasons for some of his behaviours – notably his close friendship with Christopher Morcom and the unhappiness he had to endure due to bullying and, from the film’s perspective, a form of obsessive compulsive behaviours. Whilst I have seen films where the audience is guided backwards and forwards along a character’s lifetime, this film avoids the trap of becoming a confusion of where to follow the storyline as it plays the story out by looking at Turing’s behaviours and then providing a context to them, either in a Second World War time period scene or a scene from his youth.
The direction by Morten Tyldum provides just enough plot movement to keep the audience at the edge of their seats to classify this as a thriller. In fact, it’s not just a thriller, it’s a thriller with further thrillers within it. The scene where Turing and his team work out how to set the cyphers had my heart in my mouth when you realise that moment of clarity that they must have had. However, it also has moments of calm to allow the audience to catch their breath and follow the story.
The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is beautiful working alongside the story with the main piano theme sounding like Turing’s early computer and matches his work on films such as “The King’s Speech”, “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” in using the background music as an additional source of character and tension alongside what you see on screen.
The acting on this film is nothing short of peerless with Benedict Cumberbatch making a fantastic lead in the role of Turing, in fact I would go as far as to say it’s the best performance that I have seen him in to date. He combines the arrogance of a man who knows that he has the answers that others don’t (remind you of anyone) with an all consuming passion for the work that he is doing and a cold mathematical clarity which comes to the fore in a chilling scene later in the film. He also gives Turing a humanity and dignity which whilst present throughout the film definitely comes to the fore in the film’s climax.
Keira Knightley provides a perfect counterpoint to Cumberbatch in the role of Joan. Her character opens him up to the possibility of Turing not being the lone outsider to meet their joint objective of cracking Enigma and providing the basis of a deep friendship that, in their own way, could be seen as a deep love for one another. Ms Knightley also make Joan uncompromising in that love for Alan, especially in the scene where he cold heartedly rejects her and in the final scenes where she provides emotional support after his conviction.
Matthew Goode is an effective “adversary”, and later colleague and friend, in the role of Hugh. At first, Hugh sees Alan as insufferable and selfish, only to thaw in his opinions thanks to Joan’s influence and their joint goal.
Charles Dance is equally adversarial in the role Commander Denniston, a man who could be seen as the “villain” of this movie whilst Mark Strong gives a cleverly pitched performance in the role of MI6 officer Stewart Menzies, a man of secrets who seeks to bluff both allies and opponents.
Away from the main storyline, Alex Lawther perfectly matches Cumberbatch in the role of the young Alan providing equal sympathy and humanity in the role whilst Rory Kinnear gives a sympathetic portrayal of Detective Nock, the man who eventually managed to get Turing convicted.
My own personal opinion is that this is probably Benedict Cumberbatch’s finest performance that I have seen him appear in and if he or the film as a whole doesn’t receive Oscar or BAFTA accolades, then there is something wrong.
It is particularly poignant at this time when we have remembered the people who have died in conflict that this film which commemorates not only Alan Turing but the silent people who worked behind the scenes is released. A lot of the freedoms we experience today are thanks to brave people such as those who serve in our armed forces and the backroom staff who support them and we should never forget their contributions, even seventy-plus years on.