THE IMITATION GAME
FILM REVIEW - THE IMITATION GAME
Running Length: 114 minutes
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore
Cinematography: Óscar Faura
Distributed by: StudioCanal
Cumberbatch is exceptional.
Is it possible to spoil a biopic? Everyone knows that Elvis had dietary issues and that JFK ran into a spot of bother in Dallas, but in the retelling of these biographies it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. The story of Alan Turing came to prominence following his pardon by the British Government in 2009, but for the uninitiated, he was the mathematical genius who broke the Nazi enigma code, invented one of the first computers and arguably did more than any other individual to help the allies win World War II. In 1952, the British Government showed their gratitude by prosecuting him for homosexuality (or “gross indecency,” which would remain an offence until 1967). In lieu of prison time, Turing opted to undergo chemical castration, but his conviction ended his career, and he took his own life two years later.
The Imitation Game moves between three different periods of Turing’s life; from the outbreak of war in 1939 to his arrest in the 1950s and back again to his miserable formative years at boarding school. From a first, disastrous job interview at Bletchley Park onwards, Turing is depicted as a peerless genius hindered with an insufferable egotism and a dearth of tact. His unshakable conviction and belief in his own brilliance is such that anyone not his intellectual equal (i.e. everyone) is but a distraction. Immodesty is not an attractive commodity, and his irascible genius schtick inevitably pushes the tolerance of his colleagues and superiors to breaking point.
Alongside Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Stanley Kubrick, Turing is one of those brilliant minds posthumously diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. This speculative diagnosis is based largely on anecdotal aspects of his behaviour, such as intense obsession with a singular subject and difficulties in navigating social codes. The historical fact of whether Turing had Aspergers is moot, but screenwriter Graham Moore’s decision to emphasise this aspect of his character contributes greatly to the audience’s understanding of his genius. The German enigma machine used an encrypted code with 159 trillion possible combinations (that’s 18 zeros), and settings which were changed on a daily basis. Yet for Turing it was as unbreakable and confusing as a conversation about what to have for lunch.
Benedict Cumberbatch is exceptional in the role. He has carved out a successful niche in playing socially-challenged geniuses, and his portrayal of Turing is as accomplished as one would expect. A minor gripe would be his chosen inflection, which seems to be a hybrid of Harry Enfield’s Tim-Nice-But Dim and Elmer Fudd. Kiera Knightley plays Kiera Knightley. As Joan Clarke, the brilliant mathematician with a double first from Cambridge fighting for recognition in a male dominated arena, she’s all upper class twittery and underbite. Downton Abbey’s Allan Leech performs admirably in a meaty supporting role, reminding us that he is capable of much more than pig fretting and going on about his socialist values on Downton Abbey.
Turing’s treatment at the hands of the British government is a stain on that nation’s history. The Imitation Game is a consistently riveting account of a brilliant, tragic life interrupted.