On the Silver Screen – The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays historical figure Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, the story of how the famous mathematician solved the German Enigma code during the second world war and assured the Allied victory.
Alan Turing’s contributions to history are nothing short of incredible, both as a codebreaker and as a scientist. His ideas about computers are still the basis of what we have today and his theories on artificial intelligence still inform everything that’s done in this field. Not to mention the breaking of the Enigma code being credited with shortening the war by at least two years. I won’t go into any more about how remarkable this man was because if I do then this review will last forever but if you are interested in finding out more then I’ve hyperlinked the wikipedia entry for you to peruse at your leisure.
For the most part the story of this film remains tightly focused on Turing and his team in their efforts to crack the elusive Enigma code. Many biopics have the issue of rushing through the entire life of the person so telling a smaller story in terms of timescale really helps this film explore that time in greater detail. The story is well paced and keeps relating the events to Alan Turing as a person. It is always clear what the events mean to him and his unique perspective is what the audience sees the film through. It is very much a personal story of what this man accomplished and what this meant to him personally as well as the struggles he faced by hiding his sexuality from those he worked with. The backdrop of World War II is handled very well as the audience is constantly reminded of what stage the war is at a given moment and how high the stakes are. It would have been easy to pretty much leave this part about to completely focus on Turing and his accomplishments but the continual reminders of how desperate the war is helps to give the story context and scope as well as continually raise the stakes along with reminding the audience of the urgency associated with this project.
Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing is fantastic; his performance preserves Alan Turing’s various quirks as well as his social awkwardness. From when we first see him he comes across as an eccentric genius who might be on the autism spectrum. His interactions with people are very awkward for them but are mostly played for laughs. The exchanges he has with Charles Dance’ Commander Denniston are particularly hilarious with Denniston’ unrestrained irritation at Turing’s eccentricities. There’s a definite sense that Turing is on a different intellectual plane to everyone around him. Cumberbatch should receive a nod from the academy come Oscar season for what is probably the best performance of his career to date.
Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke is also worthy of note. Clarke is a woman doing a man’s job in a time where that wasn’t generally the done thing. She is brilliant yet socially aware with references to her being unmarried at 25 and the problems she faces as a result of that. Joan Clarke and Alan Turing have a close relationship born of a mutual status as the outcasts of the group. Clarke understands Turing and respects his intellect without ever looking down on his behaviour. She also can relate to him on an intellectual level so their relationship is a very important one for giving a different perspective on Turing. Knightley’s performance is excellent and she has great chemistry with Cumberbatch in their scenes together.
Mark Strong, Charles Dance and Matthew Goode as the main supporting players each give impressive performances. Strong gives a great terrifying authoritarian performance as Steward Menzies, the head of MI6 who doesn’t really care what people do in their personal lives as long as the final goal of winning the war is achieved. Matthew Goode’s Hugh Alexander is constantly frustrated by Turing’s methods and there’s an undercurrent of jealousy at his colleague’s intellect. Charles Dance is great as Commander Denniston, an old warhorse who has no patience for those he feel are wasting his time and is inflexible when it comes to his decisions.
Turing’s latent homosexuality is at the centre of this film, there’s an obvious constant fear that he will be discovered but at the same time there’s focus on what Turing clearly feels is the right thing to do. Flashbacks to Turing’s childhood give context to his feelings in a clever and emotionally effective way. I really liked how the film reveals Turing’s reason for calling his codebreaking machine Christopher. I also liked that there’s no attempt to suggest that Turing feels that he should be ashamed of what he is but he does understand why it needs to remain hidden. There’s a particularly heartbreaking scene at the end of the film that directly deals with the consequences of his sexuality becoming public knowledge.
The end of the film feels somewhat abrupt after the significant amount of time spent on how the Enigma code was cracked. I do credit the film with trying to deal with the shameful act of chemically castrating him because legally his sexuality was considered to be a disease that needed treatment and I respect director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore for attempting to deal with it but it isn’t given enough time to gain the proper significance. The ending of the film felt so rushed in comparison to the rest of the narrative given the emotional heft of what was being dealt with. There was definitely a lot more story to be told at this part so it is a shame that it wasn’t properly explored. What they did with it was fantastic but there was much more scope that wasn’t explored.
A fantastic story that was very well told. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a career defining performance as historical figure Alan Turing with a strong supporting cast complimenting his performance. The historical significance of the Enigma code being broken and the accomplishments of Turing are respectfully covered by the story as well as making no apologies for the sort of man he was. A rushed ending brings this down slightly as there was much more story to be mined from what was covered but in general a great film about one of history’s most important figures