The Imitation Game (London Film Festival 2014) Review
The magnificent contours and mysterious blankness on the face of Benedict Cumberbatch are perhaps the key to unlocking the potential behind a biopic of Alan Turing – the codebreaker who recently received a royal pardon from the Queen half a century after his death. A film in Turing’s honour can explore a number of strands: how he solved the Nazis’ Enigma code and ended WWII two years early; how his mathematical genius led to the invention of Turing machines and eventually computers; how he was made a criminal during a period when homosexuality was still outlawed; how he committed suicide two years after his arrest at the age of 41. But Morten Tyldum, working from a script by Graham Moore, settles for making The Imitation Game an efficient, information-heavy prestige picture that assorts each achievement or struggle into overly familiar plot beats.Set in the early days of WWII, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is among – and eventually leads – a team of cryptologists hired by Churchill to crack Germany’s “impossible” Enigma code in the hope of making use of intercepted Nazi messages. Turing is quickly established as an antisocial genius (someone asks if he’s a robot) with no friends – he isn’t quite a character from The Big Bang Theory, but more the lonely person watching at home with no one to talk to. The roots of his character are further unfurled all too readily with impatient flashbacks. His Commander (Charles Dance) sarcastically drones, “Popular at school were you?” and straightaway, he’s at school solving puzzles and falling in love with another boy.To everyone’s surprise, Turing’s proposed method of decrypting the Enigma code is to construct an expensive machine that spins cogs and searches for solutions. Once running, there’s no telling if it’ll work how long it could take – and every second costs lives. Well, there’s one person with faith: Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), another maths expert who becomes Turing’s best friend and eventual wife. Does the machine work and thus make Turing enough of a hero to receive a film treatment in 50 years later? I won’t tell you. However, I will note that Knightley and Cumberbatch share a likeable chemistry that conveys warmth between two characters who love each other, even if there’s a certain obstacle in the way.Despite a late attempt to pinpoint the horrors of homophobia by dropping statistics in the credits, The Imitation Game treats Turing’s homosexuality with a strange timidity and barely delves into a crucial area of his life. Even after cracking the Enigma code (okay, I guess I’ve given it away), he wasn’t exempt from a criminal conviction caused by a relationship with another man. His two options? Prison or chemical castration. But he found a third choice by committing suicide two years later, with the final period of his life zipping past onscreen. Ultimately, the biopic tells an extraordinary story with impressive leads in the efficient, unimaginative manner we’ve come to expect from a major Harvey Weinstein production released around this time of year. It does at least honour someone who pulled off an irascible genius routine by eventually proving his genius.’The Imitation Game’ is playing London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Opening Night Gala. Ticket information can be found here.