It’s 1951 and Professor Alan Turing has just been robbed. Inspector Nock (Rory Kinnear) senses that there is more going on than the skittish Turing is telling him and launches an investigation that will end up having tragic consequences. As he interrogates Alan the movie jumps between different time frames showing Turing’s school years and his friendship with his beloved friend Christopher and his work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
The bulk of the film focuses on the extraordinary efforts of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park to break Enigma – the code used by the Germans for all military communiques during World War II and which was considered to be unbreakable. Alan is interviewed for his job at Bletchley by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance in suitably intimidating form) in a highly entertaining scene. Deniston becomes increasingly infuriated as Alan blithely confesses that he can’t speak German and doesn’t keep up with the news. But he does like solving puzzles. And Enigma is the biggest puzzle there is. Hired (reluctantly) by Denniston Alan soon finds himself at odds with his fellow code breakers due to his tendency to take everything they say far too literally & his decision to abandon traditional code breaking techniques & focus on building a machine to crack Enigma.
Tensions mount as the numbers of war casualties rise & the team are no closer to breaking Enigma than they were before. Alan finds himself ostracised, deemed unfeeling by his fellow code breakers who see his laser like focus on his machine as a waste of time that could be better spent helping them. Alan for his part simply doesn’t understand why they can’t grasp that the only way to break a code with millions upon millions of possible variables is with a machine. Things improve for Alan with the arrival of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) who gains her position at Bletchley after proving herself to be brilliant at completing a fiendishly difficult crossword Alan set & advertised in the national press. Alan & Joan become fast friends & with her gentle guidance Alan sets about winning over his colleagues as they all work together to crack Enigma.
Charming, beautifully judged, and deeply moving The Imitation Game is a superior biopic with a pitch perfect ensemble including a career best performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. The film is ably directed by Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) who juggles the multiple timeframes effortlessly. Graham Moore’s script is breathtakingly tense, charming, at times much funnier than you would think the subject matter allows for and also quietly devastating.
The whole cast is superb with nary a weak link in sight. Mark Strong is charming and gets many of the best lines as MI6 chief Stewart Menzies. Matthew Goode is a delight as the slightly smarmy Hugh Alexander who doesn’t quite know what to make of Turing. Alex Lawther is deeply touching as the young Alan whose hellish school days are saved by his friendship with Christopher (beautifully portrayed by the two actors) only to have his heart completely broken at the unexpected news of his death. Keira Knightley shines as Joan Clarke, a woman fighting to be taken seriously in a room full of men who are far too quick to dismiss her as a secretary. She’s charming and passionate and her friendship with Alan is the beating heart of the film. She humanises him and he gives her faith in herself. They make a highly watchable couple and the sequence in which the ever practical Alan proposes simply to keep Joan at Bletchley must go down as the least romantic proposal ever depicted on celluloid – even if it does have something of a quirky charm. Knightley has never been better.
The plaudits have understandably (and rightly) focused on Benedict Cumberbatch who gives the performance of his life as Turing. His Alan is a gentle, utterly brilliant soul lacking in social graces (an “odd duck’ as his mother calls him) who is always a step or two out of synch with the rest of the world. Whilst inevitable, comparisons to Sherlock are lazy. It’s a very different performance – gentler, kinder and deeply affecting. Cumberbatch is completely captivating as Turing. You find your heart beating faster with him as he cracks Enigma in a jubilant scene which had members of the opening night LFF gala audience burst into spontaneous applause. And your heart breaks at his portrayal of a broken Alan, that brilliant brain not functioning as it should due to the medication he was given to chemically castrate him. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be utterly wrecked by the closing scenes where Alan sits with only his beloved machine Christopher for company stripped of practically everything that made him uniquely Alan Turing. Treated inhumanely by those that he gave so much of himself to protect.
In the closing scenes Joan gives a beautiful speech about all the people that exist in the world today because Alan helped to break the Enigma code (an action which is believed to have shortened the war by two years and saved 14 million lives). Just think of all the extraordinary things that we might have had, the break throughs that might have been achieved, the fields of study completely lost to us due to the tragic loss of this brilliant, extraordinary, quiet hero who was let down so very badly by his government.
The Imitation Game does a superb job of bringing Alan’s story to a wider audience and hopefully will result in the heroes of Bletchley Park gaining the recognition they so richly deserve.
The Imitation Game is released in the UK on the 14th November and in the US on the 21st November. Bletchley Park will be hosting a tie in exhibition featuring clothes and props from The Imitation Game from 4 November.
Or pay The Turing Digital Archive a visit.