Writer Graham Moore
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Runtime 114 mins
Joining the ranks of The King’s Speech and The Iron Lady as the latest Oscar-baiting British biopic, The Imitation Game chronicles the life of cryptanalysis and computer forefather, Alan Turing. With a poignant performance from its lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, the film seems almost destined for awards glory.
A carefully calculated sense of urgency lies at the centre of director Morten Tyldum’s tension-packed English language debut, as a team of mathematical mavericks race against the clock to decipher encrypted German radio transmissions and lead the Allies to WW2 victory. With impeccable costumes and archive footage, the film moonlights as a well-dressed period drama, yet at its core is a thrilling recollection of espionage and intellectual conquest.
Turing’s fragile brilliance is explored through flashbacks of his tortured boyhood that are intertwined with a portrait of blossoming homosexuality. The protagonist’s sexual orientation is one of many secrets Cumberbatch juggles while contending with a Soviet spy, a menacing MI6 agent (Mark Strong) and an intervening Naval commander (Charles Dance). His rigid individuality is a well-constructed mixture of disdain for authority and grandiose self-belief, which jar wonderfully against the armies’ quintessentially British love of bureaucracy.
Having witnessed his colleages’ ineptitude, Turing begins constructing Christopher; a mechanical masterpiece, named after his childhood crush, designed to break the German’s Enigma code. Further smashing status quo, he hires crossword champion Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley, who reluctantly accepts her place amongst the team of men and develops a deep affection for Turing.
With Joan’s help, our protagonist bumbles out awkward icebreakers and eventually gains the loyalty of his team of puzzle boffins who begin to see the method behind the machine’s wire-tangled madness. Meanwhile, the pressure mounts as a daily alarm signals the resetting of Enigma code to a new configuration. Despite beckoning rather repetitive outbursts from Matthew Goode’s otherwise slick character, Hugh Alexander, the sound serves as a harrowing reminder of the lives lost in the futility of war.
Having finally cracked the code, the team are faced with the chilling task of calculating how many troops they can covertly save without alerting the enemy. By feeding the Allies the perfect amount of information, the war is won and the film lingers in a moment of frothy rejoice until settling into a melancholy denouement as Turing’s homosexuality results in his chemical castration and eventual suicide.
Audiences are left feeling patriotic yet appalled by the cruel fate faced by this brilliant mind, cut short by the prudishness of his own country’s justice system. Turing’s sexuality is subtly handled through his schooldays but one may feel slightly disappointed that it seems a touch under explored in his adulthood. Turing is constructed as oddly disconnected from all those around him and portrayed as almost asexual. Despite this, one cannot deny Cumberbatch’s performance is Oscar worthy, nuanced with introverted ticks and sensitive in its portrayal of persecuted individualism.
A plethora of home-grown TV talent makes a strong supporting cast but some characters appear rather one-dimensional in comparison to Cumberbatch’s meticulous portrayal of the eccentric genius. Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, Turing’s jilted fiancé and fellow cryptologist, doesn’t depart from her usual historical drama typecast and fails to bring anything fresh to the screen. This is an unfortunate predicament considering her character’s curiously platonic affections for Turing. The team of men surrounding Turing do not develop as the plot progresses but rather maintain their stereotypes with great conviction.
Although not perfect, the film remains a thought-provoking biopic that offers a strong tribute to one of Britain’s great unsung heroes.