The Imitation Game


As a paid up geek who earns his living fighting with computers, it goes without saying that Alan Turing has always been a hero of mine.  I didn’t come to him through computers though, but through Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner.  Trying to understand the Voight-Kampff test, used by Deckard and the other Blade Runners to find Replicants, led me to the Turing Test and the amazing mind of Alan Turing himself.  We know so much more now about the work at Bletchley Park and the machines that cracked Enigma that it is a shame that Turing himself has remained such an enigma.  His conviction for gross indecency has hung over his legacy and the belated Royal Pardon is finally putting that right.  The 2011 Black List topping script for The Imitation Game has reached our screens and, hopefully, the film will go some way to making Turing the household name he deserves to be.

Directed by Headhunters‘ own Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game follows Alan Turing’s life through three time periods, his school days at Sherborne in the 1920’s, the Bletchley Park period during the war and 1952, when he reported a break in at his home.  The ensuing investigation led to his conviction for Gross Indecency.  The film jumps between the time periods as the main story, the race to crack the German Enigma encoding machine, progresses and questions arise as to Turing the man.  Benedict Cumberbatch morphs into Turing, the mannerisms, the stutter, the awkwardness.  Watching him as Turing is mesmerising.  Throughout, despite the behaviour he shows the men and women he works with, his desire, his obsession, to beat the unbeatable is infectious.  Around Cumberbatch is a strong cast of British acting talent.  Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, the man Turning manoeuvres out of the top job in the team, Charles Dance, channelling a tad too much Tywin Lannister, as Commander Denniston and Mark Strong, proving as always he improves everything he is in, as Menzies the MI6 chief.  Keira Knightley, as Joan Clarke, is the lone woman on the team and even more unsung than Turing in the annuals of history.  The relationship between Joan and Turing is the emotional centre of a film that is about an emotionally distant man.  The complexities of Turing cracking people as well as the codes plucked from the airwaves are where Knightley comes to the fore and gives a nuanced performance of someone as conflicted as Turing.   Into the mix we have assorted other code breakers, but the main story revolves around these main characters and the film moves a pace as they try and fail and try again to crack the uncrackable, all the while, U-Boots ravage the North Atlantic.

The Sherborne period has an astonishing performance by Alex Lawther as the young Turing and his friendship with Christopher Morcom.  The scenes are remarkably touching and ultimately heartbreaking.  The 50’s period is dominated by a dogged turn by Rory Kinnear.  As Nock, the detective who smells a rat in the Turning break in, thinking he could be a Soviet spy in the aftermath of Maclean and Burgess’ defection, pulls Turing’s life apart.  Kinnear is lovely actor, the portrayal of a cop just doing his job and slowly realising that the consequences is impressive, considering he is going head to head with Cumberbatch, he more than holds his own.  The film is built around Cumberbatch’s performance and he more than delivers.  You feel every setback, whether it is in cracking the code or his personal secrets unraveling.  The supporting cast are the emotional counter to the distant genius and the whole results in an impressive film.  Even though we know the code gets broken, the how is captivating, the relationships that develop and fracture through the three time periods are beautifully captured and heartbreaking to experience.

As impressive a film as The Imitation Game is, it isn’t without its problems.  The lack of acknowledgement for the work of Poles on Enigma before the invasion is a misstep, as is the need to put a member of the code breakers family on a convoy that is about to be sunk.  There is enough understanding of the loss of life that is cost with every moment, they did’t need such an overt beat to the film.  Also the mole subplot is wasted time which could have been better spent on Turing and Joan.  On a personal, war-geek level, the CGI scenes of the North Atlantic bugged me.  The repeated usage of a King George V-class battleship in every shot is overdone, including the one of the stricken KV5 following the U-Boat attack smack of looking for a cool ship to put on screen.  The only KGV lost in the Second World War was HMS Prince of Wales who survived her encounter with Bismarck, only to be sunk by Japanese bombers in 1941 along with HMS Repulse, signalling the end of the Battleship era.  Criticisms aside, they are minor when looking at the film as a whole.  It is uplifting and heartbreaking.  You can see Cumberbatch getting awards galore for this role and they will be truly deserved.  I highly recommend The Imitation Game and hope that the public awareness results in the better understanding of the man and his work.  I type this on a machine he envisioned and carry around devices that use software he dreamed up before people ever even thought a telephone could leave the hallway of their home.  There is an empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London, no one deserves to be immortalized upon it more than Alan Turing.

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