This is a story about several tragedies. The tragedies of war and the tragedy of one man and his ill-treatment by so many. Alan Turing should be on British currency; that’s the belief of Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor responsible for bringing the great mathematician to the big screen. The Imitation Game was advertised to us as a film about the strenuous, crucial and near-impossible task of cracking the Nazi Enigma code during World War Two. It’s drawn audiences in with its promise of tense code-breaking and reminders of the struggles we faced and overcame in order to defeat Hitler. A British film, set during the war, staring not only Cumberbatch but Keira Knightley, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode and Rory Kinnear – The Imitation Game sets some high expectations of itself with its string of English Thespian royalty. We expect films like The Imitation Game at this time of year. As Christmas approaches and BAFTA talk begins, we’re used to witnessing the perfect performance parade marching across our cinema screens. The Imitation Game is this year’s The King’s Speech for sure, but it has a serious score to settle and a broken heart to carry. This is something of a national apology to one of our greatest minds. The film has an underlying anger throughout and even its actors can’t seem to believe the things that are happening to their characters. The Imitation Game revolves around the top secret attempts to break Enigma but amongst the mathematics and the politics of war, there is an exploration of Turing as a man, a loner and a minority.
There’s no point describing the basic plot because the trailer does that in more than enough detail for us. Sadly, The Imitation Game‘s most powerful lines have already lost their impact by the time you final hear them in their originally intended context. Thankfully, the actors delivering them make the lines easy to listen to them all over again. Cumberbatch continues to prove why he is one of our best. He is a fascinating performance who is in some ways always himself but never the same character twice. Although we see Cumberbatch in Turing we don’t see Sherlock Holmes. He vanishes into his characters and he takes on the challenge of playing Turing with his usual vigour. Knightley is just extraordinary. The film suggests that her character is the only one to ever truly understand Turing. Her performance is ferocious – she appears as angered by Turing’s treatment as the character she’s playing. Two outstanding performances come from Matthew Beard and Alex Lawther, relative newcomers who I look forward to seeing more from. The film is a little clunky in its opening half hour. It feels the need to over-address Turing’s far too literal interpretation of human communication but this is easy to forgive as it simply wants us to understand Turing and appreciate his isolation. Many have criticised The Imitation Game for its heavy use of artistic license. I see no fault in this film’s alterations of the true story because it’s all in the name of good film making.
There is no triumph felt in this movie. Even when it comes to breaking Enigma, such success is only followed by conflict and conspiracy. The film’s greatest move is having Turing describe his paper after which the film is named. What Turing believed about the minds of machines is instantly recognisable as a key plot element in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. This reveals just how influential Turing was on science, mathematics and philosophy. This is not your average war time movie. It does not revel in our victory but highlights how little we know about the inner workings of our national win against Germany. If you leave the film feeling as sorrowful about Turing’s unappreciated life as I did then this film has done its job. It highlights our atrocities as a nation for ignoring and destroying a man of such great brilliance. It makes us take a long hard look at ourselves as a civilisation and encourages us to absorb the guilt we should feel for past ignorance such as this.
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