Film Review – The Imitation Game (2014) starring Benedict Cumberbatch
It may have taken me a couple of weeks, but thanks to having friends willing to wheel me to the cinema, I finally saw The Imitation Game this week and I’m certainly glad a broken ankle didn’t get in my way! I had been anticipating this film ever since it was announced, as I’ve always found the insights in to such a significant part of our world history incredibly interesting and although I was aware of Enigma, like many others I did not know much about Alan Turing, his life and his achievements. As a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch for many years now, his involvement was the icing on the cake.
The Imitation Game (also the title of one of Alan Turing’s academic papers), is based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges and reveals how a small group of individuals, followed Turing’s vision to create a machine that could crack Enigma, through which all German messages were sent. However the film delves deeper and further than simply cracking Enigma, as we see insights in to Turing’s childhood as well as seeing how, as a homosexual, he faced conviction for indecency and was subjected to hormonal treatment, ultimately committing suicide in 1954 at just 41 years old.
The film is superb, capturing the terrible time of war and how men and women from different backgrounds came together at Bletchley Park to do all they could to contribute to victory. The flashes to wartime images of battle and casualties means that you are always conscious of what all their hard work was for and helps the film maintain a momentum. I also found it incredibly interesting to see what happened after Enigma was broken – something I’d never really considered and realising that by finally cracking the code, that didn’t mean the work of Turing and his colleagues ended. It’s incredible to think that such an achievement was not only kept secret from the public for decades, but that at the time, some of the most powerful individuals in the government and military were not even aware that a select few extraordinary people now decided which attacks could be prevented to aid victory without giving away to Germany that Enigma was no longer an impossible obstacle for the Allies. It was this part of the film that made me truly understand the incredible contribution and sacrifices made by Turing and those in Hut 8 and what a pressure it must have been to remain silent about it then and in the years afterwards.
The acting of the core characters is excellent, which is to be expected when a film contains so many of Britain’s finest acting talents, from Charles Dance as Commander Alastair Denniston, determined to be rid of Turing from the start, right through to Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of the police detective, who inadvertently brings about Turing’s arrest and prosecution. Mark Strong is also fantastic as MI6’s Major General Stewart Menzies, whose admiration of Turing’s talent and commitment is clear. It’s also lovely to see the relationships between Turing and his colleagues develop, from hostile to of one of a friendship of sorts and I particularly liked Matthew Goode’s portrayal of Hugh Alexander, whose willingness in the end to take a risk and support Turing, ultimately helps turn the others around too and there is a lovely warmth between them on screen.
In a strong supporting role is Keira Knightley, who I admit to not always liking in films. However she is the perfect choice for Joan Clarke, who it seems was far more modern than the time she grew up in. She wants to do something meaningful with her life and for her work to matter in a man’s world and her friendship and affection for Turing is a moving part of the film. They have a connection that provides support and comfort to both of them and this shines through between Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The focus of The Imitation Game was always going to be on Benedict’s performance as Alan Turing and he is unsurprisingly excellent, in a role which I cannot imagine any other actor of today being able to play. Having little to go on as to Turing’s voice, mannerisms etc. the role needed an actor capable of creating something completely believable and true to the man being portrayed and Mr Cumberbatch does this so perfectly. His Turing is a loner by nature, uncomfortable with social interaction and far more at ease focussing on logic and statistics. One of the skills he is always able to bring to a role is the ability to convey so much internal emotion and thought with little or no dialogue. There are moments in The Imitation Game where you simply look in to his eyes and can see everything Turing is considering, discarding, confused by or struggling to cope with and this certainly makes you care about the man himself.
Many reviews have commented that this is Cumberbatch’s finest screen performance of his career to date. I’m not sure I agree with that. However, perhaps it is because as I have seen most of his earlier work, that personally I can think of other roles where he is just as strong as he is here, if not more so – Third Star perhaps remains for me his most breathtakingly beautiful performance, or his astonishing portrayal of Stephen Hawking in 2004 for the BBC. Regardless, he is a superb actor, from whom high standards are simply expected and he is outstanding here, whether showing Turing’s harsher, more isolated side or his moments of true kindness or loneliness.
There has been some criticism that his relationship (albeit platonic) with Knightley’s Joan has more focus than his homosexuality. I felt the personal struggle Turing had regarding who he could love in his life was clear and very moving, which carried right through to the film’s end. There has also been comments that not enough is included of his post war years, when he contributed so much to computer science. This is true. However, I don’t need a film to spoon feed me each and every fact and detail. What this film should achieve, and for me does so, is that it engages the audience in the subject matter in a way that makes you want to go and learn more about it for yourself.
Alexandre Desplat’s score brings the right balance of quiet emotion and tension throughout the film and I thought the decision of the writer, Graham Moore, to move between the three eras of Turing’s life (his time at school, his time at Bletchley and post war) throughout the film was the ideal way to enhance our deeper understanding of the man and ultimately as strands knitted together, create a much more emotionally resonant ending.
As Knightley’s character says in the film, it is lucky for the world that he wasn’t someone viewed as normal. His ability to imagine what a machine could be capable of, not only helped shorten the war (experts estimate by at least two years, saving over 14 million lives), but also laid the foundations for the study and invention of the computer age. In interviews Benedict Cumberbatch has repeatedly said Turing should be taught in schools and be someone who is much more known to the world for his incredible contribution and after watching this film I completely agree.
This is beautifully made film, which will no doubt earn some deserved nominations during the awards season. Above all though, it is an incredibly important one, in terms of the recognition it finally gives to work thus far overlooked by the world. I’m sure I won’t be the only person keen to learn more about Alan Turing and these incredible men and women after watching it.
The book on which the film is based – Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges is available at all the usual book stockists and you can learn more about Bletchley Park at its website: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk
The Imitation Game is currently on general release at UK cinemas. You can watch the trailer here: http://youtu.be/S5CjKEFb-sM