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The mathematician Alan Turing is a British national hero, a key figure in breaking the German’s Enigma and his Turing Machine became the basis for modern computers. But he was prosecuted for homosexuality after the war and committed suicide because of his sentence. The bio-pic The Imitation Game sets out to tell the story of Britain’s codebreaking effort and the personal life of Turing.
When Britain declares war against Germany after the invasion of Poland, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is recruited by a top-secret codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park. The mission is to try and break the seemingly unbreakable Enigma Code. What they face is a code configuration that changes every day and has 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations and would take a human 20 million years to discover them all. When Turing takes over the operation he shakes the establishment by using unconventional methods to recruit mathematicians and sets out to make a machine to break the code, despite Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dances) wanting to dismiss the genius.
The Imitation Game uses an unconventional screenplay and editing to tell three stories about Turing, his life during the war, his unhappy schooldays with his only friend, Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon) and the police investigating Turing’s life in 1951. The Imitation Game is Graham Moore’s first screenplay and he shows great talent as he balances out these three storylines and ties them together. Headhunters‘ director Morten Tyldum injects some humor due to the interactions of characters, much like he did in his Norwegian thriller.
Moore juggles a number of themes with his screenplay, both personal and wider issues about the war. Turing has to deal with his homosexual at a time when it is illegal, punishable with jail if he is caught, having to hide what he really is. Turing was portrayed as a loner, choosing to isolate himself from the others in his team and having an amazing ability to rub people the wrong way. It is heavily implied in the movie that Turing had a condition like autism or Asperger’s, having great intelligence, but having appalling people skills, having no sense of tact and needing to be very particular in the way he lives his life.
On the wider front, The Imitation Game touches on war time issues, the Bletchley Park team needing to crack the Enigma Code before Britain is staved into submission and we are offered brief glimpses of the war on service personnel and the public. The ethical issues of what to do when the Bletchley Team’s discovery, not wanting to reveal to the German’s they have broken Enigma and people having to make the choice between which information they could use. There are power plays within the intelligence services, Denniston and the head of MI6, Stewart Menzies’ (Mark Strong), efforts to try and get rid of Turing. The wider issue of the Allies not trusting each other is also quickly looked at as the British search for a Soviet spy in Bletchley Park. Gender issues are even touched on with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) being a woman of great intelligence but is looked down upon, men thinking she should be a secretary and needs to get married.
The Imitation Game features a truly Great British cast, Cumberbatch, Knightley, Matthew Goode, Strong, Dance and Rory Kinnear. No one gives a bad performance as you would expect from a cast of this calibre. Cumberbatch is deserving of the praise he has been receiving for playing this brilliant yet complex man as he faces his personal and professional struggles. He is having to find a way to break the German code, face the internal politics and his emotional distress. Turing is an arrogant and unlikeable man, but Cumberbatch makes us warm to him as we get to know more about him see the depth behind the man. Cumberbatch also has enough comic timing to allow the occasional moment of humor.
Knightley is solid as Joan Clarke, a woman with intellect that could match Turing’s and being much more socially adjusted than Turing. She is the character that Turing can open up to and she helps him navigate through the social maze. Matthew Goode gives one of his best performances as Hugh Alexander, another talented mathematician whose relationship with Turing evolves from animosity to both men respecting one another.
Alex Lawther who plays the younger version of Alan Turing shows he has great talent at his young age. Lawther plays up the outsider who cannot fit in at school, not being able to understand his feelings, leading to a very powerful scene when the young Turing is told tragic news and the camera is focused on the boy’s face as he is trying to comprehend the information he is told.
Director Morten Tyldum is successful with his English language debut, being able to balance the drama and the lighter moments and keep you on the edge of your seat. One particular moment is when Turing comes to a revelation that could lead to a breakthrough: despite anyone who any historic knowledge knows the outcome Tyldum makes sure the scene is exciting and made sure there is energy and urgency as the codebreakers see if their efforts have paid off.
The Imitation Game is well made bio-pic that examines the personal and professional life of Alan Turing. It is broad in scope yet well balanced thanks to the Moore’s screenplay and William Goldenberg editing, allowing every part of the story to shine. Cumberbatch, Moore and Goldenberg are deserving for any awards attention they will receive.