“Are you paying attention? Good. If you are not listening carefully you will miss things.”
Most of us know the basic details about what happened during World War II. For those of us who weren’t involved or who aren’t historians, movies have blessed us with various views and diverging approaches to how the Allies finally defeated the German army and brought evil Adolf down once and for all. I myself was aware of the ‘Enigma’ machine and had a vague knowledge of it’s importance before watching The Imitation Game – thanks to the 2001 movie Enigma, famously produced by Mick Jagger and starring Dougray Scott & Kate Winslet – but I had no idea about the tragedy of Alan Turing, the genius mathematician behind the deciphering of ‘Enigma’, which would eventually win the war.
Unlike the Michael Apted directed Enigma – which was actually a work of fiction based on the novel of the same name – The Imitation Game is an adaptation of Alan Turing’s biography written by Andrew Hodges and more closely follows the real life events of what happened at Bletchley Park during the British attempts at decrypting ‘Enigma’.
Turing is played by English thespian and all round nice guy Benedict Cumberbatch. Benny is rarely off form in any of his films but to say his performance as Alan Turing is mesmerising would be a complete understatement. Cumberbatch delivers one of the greatest performances of his entire career in what is a remarkably well written film which, if I’m honest, completely took me by surprise.
Sometimes these kind of movies can be a little boring and pretentious but the cleverly paced script – which drifts back and forth through Turing’s life – and the acting managed to keep me intrigued thoughout. Despite the obvious doom-impending implications that is a constant, the film is rife with just enough humour and wit to allow it from being pigeonholed into that generic ‘war-time movie’ tag. Even though we’re not really supposed to like Alan Turing all that much (because of his blatant inept social skills, rudeness to others and an unquivering confidence, which is rightly or wrongly perceived as brashness) Benedict Cumberbatch’s beguiling and painful performance elicits more sympathy than disdain, more compassion than ridicule.
But there’s more going on here than just a man trying to decipher an indecipherable machine. Turing isn’t just trying to decode German messages, he’s trying – and struggling – to decode his own sexuality and by building a physical, cog driven piece of technology, Turing is agonisingly attempting to manifest childhood memories of a close friend in an obvious but desperate statement of self reassurance. He even names the machine which eventually decodes ‘Enigma’ after his lost friend Christopher, whom he loved more than anything in the world but who was cruelly taken from him during his most influential years. The nuances with which Cumberbatch delivers his lines, subtle yet somehow completely consuming too, certainly brings a lump to the throat if not a tear to the eye by the end.
But such a powerful movie cannot be achieved by just one man. The ensemble cast which includes Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode and perhaps the standout of them all, the legendary Charles Dance all bring their A game and their character performances, less ambiguous than Turing though not a million miles from what the actors have done before, do wonders to help propel the character of Turing to ‘complicated leading man with a real depth of complexity’ rather than sufficing for a more mechanical protagonist. It helps that the actors had a punchy and clever script to work with. Kudos to Graham Moore on writing one of the best screenplays I’ve read in a long time. Praise must also obviously go to director Morten Tyldum – the man behind the Jo Nesbo’s Norwegian crime thriller Headhunters – who never lets the direction overcomplicate the story.
Comparisons will inevitably be made to Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, but while John Forbes Nash Jr. lived a long and successful life despite mental illness, Turing’s life ended abruptly after he committed suicide. The choice to end his own life was tragically brought on by a “chemical castration” forced upon him by the British government after they learned of his homosexual activities, deemed illegal at the time. Though Turing’s end is heartbreaking to say the least, the film isn’t depressing or somber. It’s a celebration of his genius.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter