D: Morten Tyldum. DP: Oscar Faura. W: Graham Moore. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch/Keira Knightley/Matthew Goode/Charles Dance/Mark Strong/Allen Leech/Rory Kinnear/James Northcote/Matthew Beard. (Based on the 1992 book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges).
As the Oscar predictions begin to roll in, there is nothing like a decent star-turning biopic to get people really talking. Among the Weinstein Company’s gets during it’s festival runs (Studio Canal is distributing here in the UK), The Imitation Game pulled a screenplay off the Blacklist and a twenty year old book off the shelf. Couple this with BBC’s Sherlock star, Benedict Cumberbatch, and yo
Based on the life of Cambridge mathematician, Alan Turing, The Imitation Game is structured like a typical biopic and uses three different timelines. The film follows Turing (Cumberbatch) as a young teen at boarding school, his hiring and involvement with the British war effort in cracking the Nazi enigma code, and his final time where he is persecuted for being homosexual. The structure is non-linear, moving through these three periods, which is one of its weakness. Cumberbatch’s Turing is so subtly complex and quietly devastating that this Hollywood glossy structure doesn’t ring true. That being said a linear narrative would have been equally as boring and lacked any suspense, but thankfully the film is not ruined.
The driving force of The Imitation Game is certainly Cumberbatch. Lithe like his Sherlock, he creates a Turing built on language and genius that has licked his bullied wounds and moved on. He has moments where he teeters on the brink of Sheldon Cooper land, but his instincts seem to bring him back. Cumberbatch is supported well by Keira Knightley’s Joan whose connection with Turing has lovely tenderness to it. Although surrounded by other deft English actors the camera hardly strays from Cumberbatch. There are consistent shots of the back of head throughout the film, giving Turing a faceless quality that reminded me of the secrecy of not only the breaking of the code, but of his life in general.
Similar to 2009’s The Blind Side, 2010’s The Fighter, 2011’s The Iron Lady, and even Cumberbatch’s in last year’s The Fifth Estate, the crux of this film is the performance. Much has already been written about how much any biopic can be accurate, and specifically if The Imitation Game address Turing’s personal life enough. I do not think the film marginalizes his persecution as a homosexual, but it certainly isn’t the focus of the narrative. His brilliance at cracking the code and his development of the computer have been overshadowed, even made invisible by his personal life. This is the tragedy and I believe the film’s goal is to reveal that. The sadness is compounded when his pardon was only given in 2013, nearly fifty years after his death. I do not think the film needed to give us more for us to feel that weight, that loss, that disgust at our own history.