IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 114 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The true story of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and cryptographer who was hired to work at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park during World War 2 to break the Enigma Code, the form in which the Germans communicated during WWII to conduct surprise attacks. Aided by a crack team of assistants, Turing is convinced that the key to cracking the code is building a machine that can think, but his employers think he is wasting government time and money, and Turing is secretly homosexual, a serious crime in those days….
It was a government secret for over 40 years that World War 2 was, in part, won by, as this film puts it, “six crossword enthusiasts in a small village in the South of England”. Historians consider the breaking of the German Enigma code to have speeded up the winning of the war by two years. Now when I first heard they were making this film, I immediately thought of 2001’s quaint but highly enjoyable Enigma and was annoyed about yet another remake, but actually The Imitation Game isn’t really a remake of the earlier film at all. Enigma was a highly fictionalised account of the breaking of the code, but The Imitation Game is a much more true-to-life version, centering around a man who basically invented the world’s first computer. Morten Tyldum’s film is mostly set during World War 2, but it sometimes moves around in time to visit Turing’s school days, where his precociousness makes him a target for ridicule and bullies, and some years after the war, where a mysterious break-in at the house of the reclusive genius leads a police investigation into a man with many secrets. The structure of Graham Moore’s intelligent but admirably non-preachy and non-heavy-handed screenplay means that the film avoids the predictable pattern of many biopics and, while I feel it could have done with more detail in places, we certainly get a sense of a man full of personal struggles as well a perfect illustration in how far we’ve come in accepting homosexuals and their contribution to society but how we still tend to want people, even they’ve done wonderful things, to be how we want them to be.
Some of the film may make you angry, but the script is resolutely un-simplistic in its approach – you’re with Turing all the time, but he is a very arrogant guy who doesn’t help himself at times. Of course you would expect Benedict Cumberbatch to be good at playing an eccentric genius with social issues who isn’t wired like most of the rest of us, but his performance here is Oscar-worthy, a superbly meticulous piece of acting that makes the film worth watching more than once to study his acting. Even Keira Knightley, who for me always seems to look like she’s acting, is very natural in a film full of excellent turns large and small even if some of the characters are stock. The film doesn’t really solve the problem its story has for cinema in that it’s largely about the visually repetitive cracking of codes, and cuts to real war footage don’t make a few supposdly suspenseful sections quite suspenseful enough except for a really uncomfortable scene where the brother of one of the crackers is on a ship they have to decide to save or not, but The Imitation Game is constantly absorbing and in certain places borders on excellence, while managing to be both a fine piece of adult entertainment and a provider of food for thought.