DIR: Morten Tyldum • WRI: Graham Moore • PRO: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman • DOP: Óscar Faura • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: Maria Djurkovic • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Charles Dance
A handsomely mounted, solidly entertaining biopic, The Imitation Game, gives a partially fictionalised account of the life of English mathematician and logician Alan Turing, who helped crack the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II, and later died by his own hand after being forced to undergo chemical castration to “cure” his homosexuality.
While Michael Apted’s Enigma (2001) attempted the awkward task of making action heroes and romantic leads of Bletchley boffins, The Imitation Game takes a more level-headed approach to the subject. Morten Tyldum’s assured direction offers a carefully calibrated mixture of suspense and cosiness (echoed in Alexandre Desplat’s tense but oddly quaint score), sculpting the film around Benedict Cumberbatch’s central performance as Turing. Unlike his turn as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate (2013), which never rose above meticulous impersonation, Cumberbatch makes Turing a rounded creation, balancing intellectual assurance and social discomfort, even when saddled with some rather on-the-nose dialogue. Mark Strong makes an impression as a shady MI6 agent, but Cumberbatch’s real foil here is Keira Knightley, playing Turing’s fellow cryptanalyst, and one-time fiancée, Joan Clarke. Knightley has a tremendously appealing presence, and she gives Clarke an effervescence that tempers the script’s tendency to reduce her to a mere emblem of the condition of being a woman in a “man’s world”.
The film was written by an American, Graham Moore, and it shows. Moore has a firm grasp of scriptwriting formulae, but is on less sure footing conjuring a sense of place and time. The characters’ eagerness to disclose their emotions to one another, usually through aphorism, feels neither particularly British nor particularly of the period, and a handful of nagging anachronisms and Americanisms (in particular, the persistent use of the word “smart” to mean intelligent, as distinct from quick-witted) would surely have snagged on the finely tuned sensitivities of Bletchley Park’s Oxbridge-schooled code-breakers. More disconcerting than these minor quibbles is the script’s suggestion that Turing’s code-breaking machine was developed to fill the void left by a deceased childhood beloved. It’s not only commendable, but essential, that Turing’s sexuality be part of this narrative, but that doesn’t imply that it should be made to “account” for his particular genius – a move that risks trivialising his achievement and romanticising his persecution. Reducing the invention of the digital computer to a compensation for love lost makes for an affecting back-story, but rather undercuts the magnitude of Turing’s contribution to our age.
Still, while one doesn’t have to be Alan Turing to find the script’s plays on pattern and code a little obvious, The Imitation Game remains engrossing for its full two-hour running time. Sturdy craftsmanship, strong performances, and a perennially fascinating subject make it one of the more appealing pieces of awards-bait to emerge thus far this season.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Imitation Game is released 14th November 2014