The Imitation Game brings to life the tragic story of Alan Turing, the World War II code-breaker who according to Winston Churchill, made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory against Nazi Germany. His reward was to be publicly vilified for his homosexuality, the prosecution handing him a spiral of events which ended in the discovery of the mathematician dead in his home, a half-eaten apple laced with cyanide poisoning lying next to him. Turing committed suicide at the age of 41, nine years after the war ended in the culmination of his great invention.
Headhunters director Morten Tyldum now attempts to create the definitive story of Turing’s life. He brings to the big screen a line-up including some of the household names in British cinema. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the enigmatic Turing, a role he owns with a captivating range of emotions and idiosyncrasies. Cumberbatch is undoubtedly the star of the show, and he dominates the screen with a riveting portrayal of a flawed and deeply damaged genius. The supporting ensemble do not fail to make their own presence felt however, a cast which includes Keira Knightly, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode and Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance. They all turn in strong performances to give the biopic a well-balanced presentation.
The film weaves together the key stages of Turing’s life, shifting back and forth seamlessly between the years to build to the ultimate conclusion. The main thread starts a few months into the second World War, where Britain are unable to counter the damaging German offensive, the movement of their troops and war-machines shrouded behind the Enigma Code. The cipher is seen as unbreakable, and that is where Turing arrives as the M16’s last hope at achieving the impossible.
Turing’s social awkwardness and arrogance often presents his bigger struggle, putting him at odds with his team of cryptographer’s, especially Chess Champion and ladies’ man Hugh Alexander, played well by suave Watchmen star Matthew Goode. Gambling a huge sum of Britain’s cash reserves on what many see as a fool’s hope, Turing attempts to build a proto-computer against the clock, a machine that could decipher the 159 million million possibilities of the Enigma Code, and win the war.
The Imitation Game takes the shape of a Hollywood thriller, and the turbulent events of the war keeps the pace up through the film’s intermittent dalliances in Turing’s past and future lives. The pay-off is powerful, as his homosexuality is revealed and the film delivers a poignant condemnation of the British Government. Director Tyldum does well navigating the weighted historical and social politics ready-made for this story. The language is never crass and the cinematic scope doesn’t divert from the focus, despite some confusing special-effects attempting to show glimpses of the reality of war outside the isolated confines of Bletchley Park. That is easily forgiven, as they don’t last long enough to frustrate.
Verdict – ☆☆☆☆
In 2013, 59 years after his death, Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon. A life-size slate statue of him now sits at Bletchley Park, once the centre of the United Kingdom’s wartime code-breaking. He is now widely recognised as the father of the computer and artificial intelligence. Tyldum’s biopic promises to stay true to his image while providing compelling cinema, and it delivers. The cast complement each other superbly. Cumberbatch is supreme and the thriller never runs out of steam, building up to a jarring bitter-sweet finale. The Imitation Game is one of the better efforts of the year, and the best certainly in Britain’s 2014.
The Imitation Game is currently showing in theatres nationwide, including the Vue in Cheshire Oaks.