The Imitation Game – Movie Review by Frances Winston
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Rory Kinnear
In cinemas November 14th
Back in 2001 Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet starred in Enigma, a largely fictionalised account of the race to figure out the German Enigma Code during WWII. Although a decent enough movie it had no mention whatsoever of Alan Turing who was the predominant brains behind the eventual cracking of the code. Perhaps because rather than being a celebrated hero who was lauded for his work accelerating the end of the conflict by around two years he had been convicted of gross indecency simply because he was homosexual. He was sentenced to chemical castration and ultimately took his own life at just 41. With this film however his place in history is restored aided in no small part by the fact that he received a royal pardon for his crime last year.
Turing (Cumberbatch) is shown here as an arrogant, abrasive and socially awkward genius who joins the code breaking team at Bletchley Park simply because he enjoys solving puzzles. The Enigma Code, which Germans use to send strategies and messages to their troops, is proving impossible to crack since it changes every single day and as a result Europe is being brought to its knees by Hitler’s henchmen. Turing believes he can build a machine to decipher the code but his proposition is met with more than a little opposition. Unpopular with his colleagues he finds a kindred spirit in a young woman named Joan Clarke (Knightley). Her intelligence is almost a match for his and she relishes the freedom from her stifling parents that working on the project brings. Although the pair become engaged they both have ulterior motives – she wants to escape from her parents grasp and he is hiding the fact that he is homosexual.
It is not a spoiler to reveal that after much bureaucratic wrangling, in fighting and several stressful years Turing’s machine comes good and cracks the elusive code ultimately leading to the end of the war. However, since it was such a top secret project the details of the people involved and the work they did remained buried by the government for 50 years. Hence when Turing found himself arrested for gross indecency no one realised just how much of a debt they owed him. Choosing the chemical castration over prison the treatment left Turing a broken man and ultimately led to the end of his life.
While this film is far more historically accurate than the aforementioned Enigma it still takes some liberties. The real Joan Clarke has always been described as rather plain – something that Knightley definitely couldn’t be accused of. Also, their relationship has been somewhat built up here compared to what has been documented about it. They spend much of the movie skirting around Turing’s sexuality and when the subject is raised it is almost like a sidebar, however this was a big part of who he was and caused him huge conflict which helped shape him and so deserved a bit more emphasis than it receives. It is as if they worried about alienating people if they focused on the fact that he was a gay man rather than an unsung war hero. When his downfall comes it is all wrapped up rather quickly and other than one lovely scene with Cumberbatch and Kinghtley post sentencing we don’t get any sense of the trauma or stress the accusations and trial must have caused him.
Cumberbatch is brilliant and compelling in the lead role and the rest of the cast give mainly strong supporting performances – although Alan Leech’s accent keeps slipping, which really takes you out of the movie, and Knightley is a bit insipid as the downtrodden female genius Joan. The look and feel of the era is captured beautifully although the time hopping between his teenage years, the war years and the 1950’s is slightly jolting at times. Appropriately this often has a formulaic feel and the writers have ensured that the technical talk never feels too overwhelming for the viewer.
This proves that war movies don’t have to be full of action and gunfire. Every character in this movie is fighting the war in their own way and it is a shame so many of them went unrecognised for so long. Turing’s tale is indeed a fascinating and compelling one and a story that needed to be told. It is a shame it has taken this long for his achievements to be properly recognised. His work even led to the development of what we now know as computers so the world owes him a huge debt.
This is thoroughly engaging and thought provoking. Although Turing’s fate is common knowledge you still feel for him when it happens and you can’t help but lament the injustice of it. This would have been a good chance to highlight the archaic homosexuality laws of the time by focusing more on his sexuality but even without that you get a good sense of the man here. Definitely award worthy this is an acting masterclass by Cumberbatch and a fine tribute to the late Turing.