“The Imitation Game” is an intelligent British period biopic directed by Morten Tyldum about the eccentric prodigy who cracked the German Enigma code and helped win WW11. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematician and pioneering computer scientist whose work in Bletchley Park during WW11 led to him being known as the Father of Artificial Intelligence. The film not only covers his number crunching genius at work but also delves into the more tragic aspects of his life: his 1952 prosecution for gross indecency (Turing was gay), imprisonment and State mandated chemical castration through the barbaric and then experimental hormonal therapy, leading to his eventual suicide two years later because of persecution and loneliness.
The film covers three main timeframes: the school years, the war period and the Bletchley years, ending with the persecuted aftermath. The 3 periods are excellently inter-cut to provide background and develop the stories in tandem. During his school years, he is played as an awkward misfit by an excellent Alex Lawther where his early fondness for crytography and his same sex desires develop as he passes code messages back and forth with his only classmate.
With the Nazis taking control of Europe, the British government needs to act and engages a team of maths geniuses to attempt to crack the infamous Germans' code, Enigma, which is perceived as unbreakable. It is the code by which their naval forces receive instructions on a daily basis. The team includes chess champion Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), Scot John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). They are later joined by crossword whiz, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who becomes a close friend of Turing over the course of the project and he comes to depend on her, even offering her an insincere and half hearted proposal of marriage. His team find his aloof, arrogant and irascible manner impossible to work with. Turing lacks social graces, feels that the team are slowing him down and he even informs them in no uncertain terms that he considers them so useless that he'd be better off working on his own. The project Turing directs is to develop a machine which could automate the process of decoding Nazi messages, because it would take decades to decipher them by conventional methods. He works for months on a secret device with moving knobs and discs. It is basically an early computer which goes through innumerable combinations of numbers and letters in the hopes of uncracking the secret code. After 2 years of no success, pressure is building and eventually they get a breakthrough. However the solving of the code must remain a tightly guarded secret because they must protect against the possibility of Germany realizing their Enigma machine has been decrypted and immediately reprogramming it, thus undoing years of painstaking work. The moral implications of hiding their victory is chilling, they must literally play God, picking and choosing what lives are to be saved. In the aftermath of the Enigma success, the film moves takes a darker, more troubled and interesting angle. It starts to focus on Turing himself - his painful secret, his past and his story.
The performances are excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch is a gifted actor, intelligent and committed. He gives an effortless and yet complex portrayal of the exceptionally talent but tragically tormented problem solver, Turing. His array of eccentricities carry the film and his rudeness and insulting manner is so condescending and superior that it is actually quite amusing to watch. Keira Knightley, the only woman admitted to the inner circle of code breakers adds further interest to proceedings. As would be expected, she plays her part exceptionally well and her Britishness serves her well. She is both sympathetic and effective in a role which I thought could have been further developed. The supporting cast is entirely dependable and makes the movie very easy to watch.
“The Imitation Game” is a strong, rich, engaging and yet rather tragic tale which moves along at a steady pace. Graham Moore’s clean screenplay deftly navigates between the 3 time periods of Turing’s life and the period setting of the film was superbly well done. On the one hand we have a wartime bio pic of struggle and victory and on the other hand a story of the prejudices and fears of a nation which ultimately destroyed a man. I liked the cautious handling of Turing’s sexuality, his tormented childhood and the emotional toll it takes on him. We are reminded of the enormous personal sacrifices her made and this gives the film a pervading sense of poignancy. I thought it was a moving and bittersweet story of the men and women behind the WW11 victory for the Allies, with the development of their revolutionary “computer”. It is a well constructed drama and one that I can see doing well come Awards season.