The Imitation Game – a poignant, occasionally uplifting, but more often monstrously sad film – examines the life of pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose revolutionary work in breaking the Nazi’s Enigma Code was rewarded with prosecution for his homosexuality.
With a powerfully nuanced performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and a delicately crafted script from Graham Moore, based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, this is not so much concerned with Bletchley Park’s efforts to thwart the German’s greatest weapon. Instead it digs deeper to elegantly construct a character study of a brilliant man who excels at uncovering secrets while fighting to conceal the ones about himself.
Moore’s script deserved its place on the 2011 Black List, the first-time writer always keeping the drama teetering on a razor’s edge without getting too bogged down in explaining how Turing’s machine works.
The pace never falters because Moore wisely spans the film across three key periods in Turing’s life: his miserable teenage years in boarding school, where he first discovers his sexuality with devastating repercussions; the challenge of his secret war-time work for the Government; and the despair of his post-war conviction for gross indecency, a now-abolished law that criminalised homosexuality, and for which Turing was chemically castrated two years before committing suicide.
Early scenes of Turing first arriving at Bletchley Park are played for laughs with a formulaic characterization as an irascible genius – part Sherlock, part Sheldon Cooper. He possesses a prodigious talent for codes and cyphers but is also socially obtuse, the concepts of jokes and flirting as alien to him as basic good manners, which puts him at odds with Matthew Goode’s code breaking team.
But when the film dares to probe further under Turing’s skin we begin to see how a life defined by torment and shame has led to the creation of this abrasive routine to protect him from the torment of others. In one upsetting scene, we witness the seed of this idea planted when, whilst enduring the savage bullying of his classmates, Turing realises he can make them stop by suppressing his emotions – and thus he’s set on a lifetime of loneliness.
Cumberbatch is wonderful here, swiftly slipping into Turing’s twitchy and stammering mentality, the Sherlock-star is both compelling and believable as a conflicted genius – a character he can surely play in his sleep by now – and also as a fractured human being destroyed by his own secrets. Awards success surely beckons.
Not that his supporting cast are any less impressive. Kiera Knightly for one is a happy surprise as Turing’s close friend and one-time fiancée Joan Clarke – who initially looked like a one-note frustrated English rose in the trailers, but in Knightly’s hands becomes a strong and challenging character in her own right.
All these excellent performances would be for nought, of course, without Moore’s deft writing that takes potentially bit-part players and fleshes them out into realistic and rewarding characters. The rewards of this shine through in the final moments that – despite our advanced knowledge of Turing’s fate – are emotionally wrought and completely heart-breaking.
There are, however, a few holes in the film. Rory Kinnear’s detective requires some huge leaps of logic to begin his investigation and the depiction of Bovine Tuberculosis seems ill-thought-out. But these are wholly forgivable when the end product is so superb.
Tenderly written with depth and feeling and with exemplary performances from the entire cast, The Imitation Game is a near-perfect film and a cracking tribute to one of Britain’s greatest minds that will be hard to surpass. Your move The Theory of Everything…
Run time: 113 mins; Genre: Biography/Drama; Released: 14 November 2014;
Director: Morten Tyldum; Screenwriter: Graham Moore;
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong
Click here to watch the trailer for The Imitation Game