During World War II a team led by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) set up base at Bletchley Park in London to try and break the German Enigma Code, with the hopes of bringing the war to an early end. While Turing is undoubtedly a brilliant mathematician, he is also arrogant, awkward and willingly isolates himself. Although the team is working to break a secret code, it soon becomes clear that Turing is hiding some secrets of his own.
The story of the quest to break the Enigma Code has been told on screen before – notably in the 2001 film Enigma. There is little doubt that the struggle to break the impossible code is a fascinating one, but what emerges throughout the course of The Imitation Game is a far more interesting, and tragic human story.
We, as audiences, are used to Benedict Cumberbatch playing alien characters, be it actual alien Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit franchise or the human, but emotionally removed Sherlock. The surprise then, with The Imitation Game, is that Cumberbatch has not only chosen to play a character who is decidedly human, but a character with deep insecurities and vulnerabilities that come from within. Cumberbatch makes Turing a relatable and engaging man; while he is nothing like an everyman, it is easy for the audience to relate to him, as he is so obviously out of his depth when it comes to everything but his work. Cumberbatch delicately balances Turing’s seeming arrogance and his vulnerability to make the character well rounded and, most of all, human.
Kiera Knightley plays Joan Clarke; a young woman who shows promise in the field of mathematics. Knightley drops all of her quirks and mannerisms for the role and allows Joan to be the emotional centre of the film. It is through her eyes and her relationship with Turning that we understand both characters better. Charles Dance ramps up the pompous as Commander Denniston, Rory Kinnear takes on the role of the man who outed Turing, Matthew Goode plays the cad rather well as Hugh Alexander and Mark Strong provides a father figure as Stewart Menzies.
The story, as mentioned, is one we have seen on screen before; the frantic scramble to break the Enigma Code and, hopefully, end World War II. This time out, however, screenwriter Graham Moore has woven the story of the code together with the enigma of Turning’s personal life. The title refers to both the quest to break the code, but also the life of Alan Turning, as he imitates the men around him, and hides his sexual orientation from the world for fear of prosecution. There are times when the drama feels artificially hyped – rather like an episode of House – and some of the exposition is a little too obvious, but for the most part, the story of The Imitation Game is the solid, tragic and engaging tale of the man who fought to break the unbreakable code.
Director Morten Tyldum makes his English language debut with The Imitation Game, and makes the film poignant, uplifting and tragic. Tyldum allows the characters, and the film, to crest the highs and fall to the lows that come with breaking an impossible code, before realising that they must keep this discovery secret. At the same time, Turing’s back-story is carefully threaded through the film to give the audience an understanding of the special mind at the centre of the struggle, and the secret that eventually became his undoing.
The Imitation Game is a gripping, poignant and tragic film, which shows the public highs and private lows of Alan Turning. Cumberbatch’s performance is the heart and soul of the film, with the rest of the cast supporting him admirably. The Imitation Game, while slightly clumsily scripted at times, is a film that takes a look at a fascinating microcosm of World War II, has strong emotional heart and carefully juxtaposes personal and public; tragedy and success.