The Imitation Game begins in 1951 with Detective Nock (The Casual Vacancy‘s Rory Kinnear) and Sgt Staehl (Ideal‘s Tom Goodman-Hill) turn up to the reported break-in at Alan Turing’s house, where he’s reluctant to talk about anything other than to warn them to stay out otherwise they might come into contact with his home-made cyanide… which clearly hasn’t worked. Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was a mathematician who was persecuted for his homosexuality at a time when idiocy amongst the authorities clearly loomed large, and instead he should’ve been congratulated at the time for being instrumental in decoding the Geermans’ messages and helping to end World War II. This film does make for a rather worthy trbute to him.
Flashback to 1939 and that war has broken out, and Turing has just arrived at Bletchley Park for an interview where he tells Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) that he things he should be given a chance to crack the Enigma machine’s code although, as a mathematician, he knows that with the Germans changing the settings they use, for sending messages, every night at midnight, and with the machine having over 150 million million million settings, it’s more of a Mission: Impossible than even Ethan Hunt can manage!
Everything in the government and British Intelligence is all top secret, hush hush and on the QT and he’s told he’ll have to work together with some other boffins – and not on his own, but while they thing they’ve worked out the occasional message due to the frequency of certain letters, Turing wants to go more than one better by creating a machine which will break every single “unbreakable” message, every time and instantly… the big show-off.
Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the sole woman who was able to complete a tough crossword puzzle in just ten minutes, after which she received her ‘golden ticket’ to take part in Turing’s final job application test for a position on his team. Naturally, because of the period in which this film is set, just as homosexuality was deemed a crime, women were only deemed fit for the kitchen and the secretary pool, but nowadays we live in more enlightened times, and we’ve since learned that business women like Katie Price can get their breasts out for attention and everything!
The adapted screenplay, which won an Oscar, features some subtle humourous moments, whilst Turing also faces opposition from the people he works with either down to his mannerisms of their frustration with his machine which he believes will win the war, yet they’re not so sure. However, it does feel little soapified at times, rather like the recent The Theory of Everything, which saw Eddie Redmayne as Steven Hawking, a role played by Cumberbatch, too, back in a BBC drama in 2004. However, The Imitation Game does turn out a lot better overall.
The film also features standard war-like scenes where bombs drop, everyone is hunkered into a bunker while an individual plays an accordian for everyone to pass the time. Once they get out of there, they find the set designers and graphic artists have had a field day turned a film set into that of a blown-apart capital city, and something you’d expect from the art of a conceptual album cover.
Of course, Cumberbatch looks nothing like Alan Turing – apart from the haircut, but that doesn’t matter he’s on form better than anyone else here, with Knightley also giving great support, but looking a little too prim and proper as Joan, but that’s period dramas full of educated types for you. Mark Strong also turns in a great performance as MI6’s Stewart Menzies and much credit goes to Alex Lawther as the Young Alan Turing, as the film flashes back further to his time at school- showing his excessive OCD and being bullied by classmates. It’s rare to see a child actor who’s both not annoying and actually very good.
Note that many films have been made about cracking the Enigma code over the years, including the moderately entertaining, but nonsensical, U-571 where the Americans had cracked the code and Turing’s name wasn’t even mentioned… so take that one with a pinch of salt.
Oh, and of course, the Enigma machine wouldn’t give you a Windows Blue Screen Of Death, so it’s actually better than modern equivalents.
The Imitation Game – which takes its name from the Turing Test – tries to discover if a machine can have artificial intelligence and, therefore pass as a human, is something more recently explored in the interesting but flawed Ex Machina. Overall, this is a good film and, as a whole it works better than The Theory of Everything – even if Redmayne’s performance is undeniably fantastic – but it’s not as brilliant as the mind of Alan Turing. And while I’m at it, I’ll give a recommendation for director Morten Tyldum’s wonderful 2011 movie, Headhunters.
And a final query about something from this film, but one I’ll have to put within spoiler tags…
Go to page 2 for the presentation and extras.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.