By Niall McKenna, Contributor.
Within the first few moments of The Imitation Game we learn that ‘Alan Turing has been robbed’. Director Morten Tyldum is alluding not just to the burglary that would lead to Turing’s conviction for gross indecency, but also to the appalling injustice inflicted on him by his own government and society at large. As a pioneer of computer science his work is speculated to have shortened the war by two to four years and saved millions of lives but as a homosexual, he was ruined. The film strives to right this wrong, and succeeds brilliantly
Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, tells us his story through three key periods of his life. We learn of his unhappy adolescence at boarding school where his struggles with his sexuality began, the covert operation he led at Bletchley Park to build a machine capable of cracking the Enigma code and thereby decrypting Nazi naval transmissions, and finally his post-war decline as a disgraced academic. Make no mistake that Turing’s story is a tragic one; he is unsure but arrogant, an outsider as irreducible as the codes he attempts to break. He could have easily been dislikeable if not for Cumberbatch’s phenomenal performance; his portrayal of Turing is simply heart-wrenching. Praise also goes to Alex Lawther as young Turing, paving the way for Cumberbatch’s portrayal of a man ironically unable to communicate despite dedicating his life to building a machine for that very purpose.
Keira Knightley is excellent as Joan Clarke, an affectionate foil to Cumberbatch’s cool. This dark tale is brightened by the warmth and wry humour of their relationship. Mark Goode and Allen Leech impress as fellow cryptanalysts, as does Charles Dance as the curmudgeonly Commander Denniston.
The story of Hut 8 and the cryptanalytic work done within lends itself to a thriller. The score by Alexandre Desplat evoks both taut espionage and the solemnity of the work being undertaken in this ‘war against time’. The roll of tank track is interspersed with the clicking of a code breaker machine; discussions of soldiers’ lives are conducted as the injured shuffle past in the background. The script by Graham Moore is a clever weave of subplot, and there are a few genuine surprises throughout (fear not, no spoilers will be divulged). Similarly, the efforts of production and costume design cannot be understated, faithfully recreating wartime and post-war Britain.
The Imitation Game is a fantastic film, largely due to a stellar cast and excellent direction. The work done by Turing and his team could be considered some of the most important of the twentieth century, and is done justice here. Cumberbatch’s performance as troubled genius and unsung hero is one of his best.
In Queen’s Film Theatre now. For listings click here.