Loner, Genius, Enigma – ★★★★½
Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a family-friendly, must-see look at a gay man who won World War II. Now then, put that on the movie poster.
You wonder why it has had to take this long for the story of Alan Turing to be told on-screen. It’s sad that it’s taken seventy years since his death for hindsight and improved social attitudes toward homosexuality to prevail to bring this story to the wide audience it deserves.
The film starts in 1939 with the recruitment of Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) by the Ministry of Defence and MI6. He’s a troubled soul (or “odd duck” as his mother told him), who finds solace in his machines and puzzles with no real interest in forming human relationships. The film flits between wartime, Turing’s school days and his arrest in 1952 for indecency and acts of homsexuality.
Most of the action takes place in Bletchley Park as a team of codebreakers set out to crack the Enigma machine which had been built to encrypt Nazi war messages. Turing’s partners/opponents/colleagues (call them what you will) include Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Downton alumni and Dublin’s own Alan Leech. As you’ll know if you’ve ever read a history book, the men and women of Bletchley Park were eventually successful and are believed to have been responsible for saving 14 million lives and ending the war two years earlier than expected.
Cumberbatch brings with him experience of playing another man who is potentially on the autistic or Asperger spectrum, Sherlock Holmes. He is absolutely brilliant here and it’s fitting that his first major leading man role (he shared the poster for Star Trek:Wrath of Khan and The Fifth Estate) is one that is sure to see him win many plaudits and awards. Cumberbatch is a magnetic screen presence no matter what he’s in, but he takes things to another level here. As Tropic Thunder sort of taught us, it’s hard for actors to know how to portray people who are intellectually gifted or suffering from mental illness (Hollywood often seems to treat them the same) and Turing’s special way of thinking is shown to be as much of a curse as a gift, with his schooldays and latter life in particular being incredibly cruel.
Turing was essential to the war effort (“According to Winston Churchill, Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory“) and yet when everything was done and dusted, he was left alone and became the subject of a public trial of shame, which ultimately led to a premature death. Cumberbatch elicits empathy and reverence in equal measure – no mean feat. You can call the film “Oscar-bait” if you like, but when it’s done this well I’m happy to bite.
Tyldum and the film’s producers have opted to make the film really family-friendly. They don’t dwell on the subject of homosexuality too much (they don’t shy away from the facts but heaven forbid they show any gay acts), nor do they even delve too deeply into precisely how Turing’s computer of cogs and wires actually worked. Instead everything is kept clean and simple (it’s 12A in Ireland) to make a film that should now go onto secondary school syllabuses, promoting as it does respect and acknowledgement of those who are different.
Inspiring, deeply affecting and important family-friendly film-making. More of this please.
Released across Ireland on November 14th 2014
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