Alan Turing was never going to be an easy subject to put into a single film, seeing as both he and his story were so varied and fascinating. Not only was he one of the single greatest contributors to the Allied victory in World War 2, he also invented computer science and, in a shameful and tragic twist, eventually killed himself after being horrifically persecuted for his homosexuality. Thankfully, The Imitation Game and its leading man, Benedict Cumberbatch, do a superb job of bringing this tale to life in a touching, nuanced, and exciting film. In a year positively teeming with Oscar-bait biopics, The Imitation Game is a definite highlight.
Turing’s life story is told in three parts; his formative school days, his work at Bletchley Park building the machine that cracked the Nazi Enigma code, and the investigation that led to the public outing of his sexuality. The jumping between the time periods lends the film a great energy, and a noticeable change of moods, as the colour palette grows more muted as we inch closer to Turing’s demise. This ensures that one plot thread never overstays its welcome and, even if the code-breaking is the centre of the film, the other parts are almost as interesting. Of particular note is the performance of Alex Lawther as the young schoolboy-era Turing, a fantastically well-observed study of intelligence mixed with awkwardness and the discovery of first love.
In fact, all of the performances are of a very high standard. The Imitation Game collects some of the finest British talent working on screen at the moment, from the ever-reliable Rory Kinnear (as the Manchester detective who secures Turing’s fate after the end of the war) to the master villain Charles Dance (as short-sighted Commander Deniston). However, they pale in comparison to Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, exuding confidence as well as social angst, emotionally distant from his co-workers (led by Matthew Goode’s charming Hugh Alexander) and quietly devastating in his attachment to his machine. He is flanked by Keira Knightley in what is probably her best work to date as Joan Clarke, a mathematician nearly as gifted as Turing himself. The emotional restraint inherent in the time period allows for great subtlety in the portrayals of these figures, and Cumberbatch is surely a front-runner for the Oscar.
The story itself is not quite as engrossing as its characters, with the safety of Bletchley being a barrier to proper thrills, though that is not to say that the script is in any way lacking. In fact, the writing is on the whole very entertaining, with exposition delivered cleverly and the humour playing very well. However, the audience’s main emotional engagement is definitely with Turing personally rather than the surrounding events and the short battle scenes put in to remind us of the impending dangers are marred by some pretty dodgy looking effects work.
These flaws are not enough to really drag the film down though. Whilst it may lack some of the confidence and experimentalism of the other big hitters this Oscar season such as Whiplash and Birdman, it is still a great story, deftly executed and wonderfully acted. The treatment of Alan Turing is a black mark in recent British history and whilst a film cannot absolve that, this is about a good a tribute as could one could wish for.