›› The Imitation Game
a film by Morten Tyldum.
2014 | 114 mins | UK.
principal players: Benedict Cumberbatch / Alan Turing, Keira Knightley / Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode / Hugh Alexander, Allen Leech / John Cairncross, Matthew Beard / Peter Hilton, James Northcote / Jack Good; with Rory Kinnear as Detective Robert Nock, Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, Charles Dance as Commander Denniston and Alex Lawther as Young Alan Turing and Jack Bannon as Christopher Morcom.
Official Synopsis: "Based on the real life story of legendary cryptanalyst Alan Turing, the film portrays the nail-biting race against time by Turing and his brilliant team of code-breakers at Britain's top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, during the darkest days of World War II."
Seldom do I review mainstream cinema, given most films of this ilk have enough reviews to sink a battleship; a turn of phrase that's more than apt given the sinking of many a British battleship was avoided thanks to the mathematical mind of Alan Turing and others whose work was key to breaking the German Enigma codes of World War II.
And it's to the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges that we find screenwriter Graham Moore turning to, gaining himself an Oscar® in the process by way of a script in which the start is but its end, opening with a monologue delivered by Turing to a police officer, being in effect a narrative setup so as to tell Turing's life story in flashback thereafter, even if keen-eyed cinemagoers will have spotted the infamous blooper between the on-screen date of 1951 and the memo seen moments after as correctly dated to 23rd January, 1952; namely the date Turing's house was burgled and subsequent investigation that would result with his prosecution for gross indecency. Such is however indicative of the film's poetic license, even if certain aspects of the screenplay take the term to newfound heights of factual distortion, hereby showing Soviet spy John Cairncross working alongside Turing and in the process blackmailing him; whereas in reality they worked separately at Bletchley Park, with the idea that the two men ever met in real life being cited as "ludicrous" by Hodges.
Be that as it is, such does not diminish the tour de force performance of its star Benedict Cumberbatch, who here wonderfully conveys the complex emotions of a man who finds himself recruited for a secret operation, one overseen by Stewart Menzies of MI6; aka Mark Strong in cloak-and-dagger mode. Struggling to fit in with his fellow code-breakers, Turing nevertheless remains devoted to his work with no time for those - cue the ever splendid Charles Dance in the role of Commander Denniston, who get in the way of his efforts to solve the ultimate puzzle; that of the German Enigma code. And solve it Turing and his team did. Only to discover that the hardest part was still to come; that of knowing that their success would result in thousands of lives being saved, but not all, for to do otherwise would let risk to the Nazis the fact that they had broken, their unbreakable code. It was a secret that the Government kept for more than fifty years.
A riveting slice of wartime entertainment, in The Imitation Game.
Only whereas the United States were keen to seize the top German scientists at the end of the war and spirit them away to White Sands Missile Range, the British view was notably different. Literally taking a sledge hammer to all machinery, they destroyed the most advanced computer of its day, along with the blueprints, in the process disbanding the finest minds in the country. Worse however lay in store for Turing; for found guilty of an act of gross indecency in 1952, Turing rather than face imprisonment, opted for probation to enable him to continue with his work, conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment; aka chemical castration. Subject to a series of injections of the female hormone oestrogen, the effects on his body and some would argue his mind, are open to debate. Officially committing suicide by way of cyanide poisoning, Turing died on the 7th June, 1954; a matter of weeks before his 42nd birthday.
As you would expect, Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding in the lead role, playing Turing with deliberate eccentricities and OCD character traits that result in a captivating performance nicely counterbalanced by both Matthew Goode as rival code breaker Hugh Alexander and Keira Knightley as object of proposal and mathematical whiz Joan Clarke, even if Alex Lawther as the young Turing comes close to stealing the limelight. Yet for a film in which Turing's homosexuality is integral to the plot, it remains extremely coy about it; seen infatuated with his childhood friend Christopher Morcom, but cinematically chaste as an adult, being convicted of an act that we do not witness. That said, this remains an engrossing film on the life and times of a man whose pivotal contribution in decrypting intercepted Enigma coded messages shortened the war by more than two years, saving an estimated 14 million lives in the process, but who would ultimately come to be treated as a criminal solely on account of his sexuality, by the very country that he helped save.
Turing however was not alone, as we are informed that between the years 1885 and 1967 approximately 49,000 homosexual men were found guilty of acts of gross indecency under British law and whilst individuals still alive can apply to the Home Office to have their convictions disregarded, no such redress to-date is available for the family and friends of those who died before the law was changed. Turing however was granted a posthumous Royal Pardon by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.
As a film, this makes for a riveting slice of wartime entertainment, brilliantly staged, performed and directed and complete with Benedict Cumberbatch in a career-defining performance, only to end up being pipped at the award-winning post by a work equally devoted to the life of another English genius. Yet no amount of cinematic misdirection can distract your attention from its catalogue of anachronisms and blatant factual errors, making this far from a true picture of Britain's Greatest Codebreaker and his dedicated team of cryptanalysts. And that's the real tragedy here, along with the shameful truth of how an act of love was still deemed a criminal offence in most countries of liberated Europe.
Gay Visibility - covert.
Nudity - none.
Overall - file under ... 4 stars.