The Imitation Game (2014)

I think, by now, I’ve made my feelings about Benedict Cumberbatch pretty fucking clear. However, for those of you not paying attention, I’m more than happy to repeat myself. I love him and his weird alien, ottery face. There is very little that I wouldn’t be happy to sit through just to watch him. Hell, if I sat through the abysmal and disappointing August: Osage County then I could probably sit through any old shit if I had his face for company. It also helps that the story of Alan Turing is one of the few films that genuinely deserves to be made into a film. The man was a fucking war hero but nobody was allowed to know about it. He saved thousands of lives and his work was key in the development of computer science: just think how much we all owe him. Such a great man deserves to be portrayed by a great actor.

The story of Alan Turing can be seen as both a triumph for Britain and part of its shameful history. For years it was kept secret that one of our greatest mathematicians helped crack the enigma code and bring World War II to an early end. Not so secret is the fact that, in 1952, Alan Turing was arrested and charged with gross indecency on account of his homosexuality. After spending a year taking drugs that chemically castrated him, Turing took his own life in 1954. One of the most important men in one of the biggest conflicts this country has been a part of was only provided with a posthumous royal pardon in 2013. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t think all of that was a fucking disgrace.
A sentiment that is clearly shared by the team behind The Imitation Game. This isn’t the first attempt to dramatise Turing’s story but it is by far the best. With a script by Graham Moore that is loosely based on Andrew Hodges book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, the film explores three key timelines in Turing’s life: his miserable time a boarding school; his time in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park; and his post-war conviction. Moore’s script has the difficult task of balancing the more intimate aspects of the story with a massive world conflict. Thankfully, he is more than up to the task and has created a script that is simple and clear enough to explain the intricate details, whether technical or personal. The narrative expertly weaves between these timelines and creates a fucking great biopic/drama/thriller thing.
Norwegian director, Morten Tyldum, has produced a good looking and sleek film here with a cast of fucking amazing actors. However, it is pretty much down to outstanding leading performance by Benedict Cumberbatch that this film resonates so much. The film doesn’t exactly wow but Cumberbatch’s performance is incredible: something I was delighted to see described as his “most Cumberbatchian character yet”. It’s a little like Sherlock Holmes meets Sheldon Cooper but it works. Whilst I can’t speak for the accuracy of the portrayal, the actor fully embraces the role and gives a sympathetic and haunting portrait of Turing. Early in the film, Turing asks a police officer (Rory Kinnear) “Are you paying attention?”. Cumberbatch spends the rest of the film ensuring that you can’t help but do just that.
The Imitation Gameintroduced me to a new sensation – not instantly hating everything Keira Knightley does. Her portrayal of Joan was considered and controlled. Fighting against the sexist attitude of the time, Joan is strong, clever and thoroughly British. If ever there was a role hand-made for Knightley this would probably be it… even if she is just too fucking beautiful. Of course, I do have to agree with those people who are criticising the amount of time given over to their friendship. Joan was, at one time, engaged to Turing but their friendship is presented as much more significant than was probably true.
For a film so concerned with Turing’s homosexuality it does everything it can to hide it. Now I’m not suggesting we need to sex Turing up or anything. I’m not trying to say that audiences were crying out for some of kind of cryptologists after dark smut. If there is a demand then I’m sure Channel 4 can work out some sort of deal for a Russell T Davies late night special. However, it would have been better if there was more than one memorable reference to the fact that Turing liked dudes. It was the fucking point after all.
There has been already been a massive fucking deal made about the inaccuracies within the script and it is safe to say that The Imitation Game takes a bit of a Downton Abbey approach to historical fact. There can be no doubt that parts of the tale have been amped up for Hollywood, particularly with references to Soviet spy John Cairncross, who Turing would never have met, and a crazy sub-plot involving MI6 planting information for the Russians. Then we have the massively coincidental, convenient and super-emotional drama surrounding fellow code-breaker Peter Hilton’s brother being subject of an imminent German attack. Suffice it to say, Peter Hilton had no brother.
However, I don’t think The Imitation Gameever set out to create an in-depth biography documenting Turing’s life. It simply used him as a symbol for a problem that cursed British society for such a long time. In a similar way to 12 Years a Slavelast year, The Imitation Gamereintroduces a modern audience to a not so ancient practice of homophobia that destroyed people’s lives and still infects society today. So yes, the makers do take some liberties with Turing’s life and make him more a a Hollywood hero. He needed the additional conflict and struggle to make his inevitable fall seem even worse.

The Imitation Gameis not a film about cryptanalyst Alan Turing but a film that uses him to on behalf of gay rights. Turing was a man with a great man with a huge amount of potential. Unfortunately, Turing’s successes were kept secret for so many years and his continued greatness was derailed thanks to some misguided laws. It is a story not just about this war hero but about the injustice that he received once his work had saved so many lives: about a man who changed the world and the world that destroyed him.

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