English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.
2014 has been a good year for British cinema, and I’ll point you to the recent list of nominees for Best British Independent Film at the awards of the same name. The nominations are ‘‘71‘, ‘Calvary‘, ‘Mr. Turner‘, ‘Pride‘ and ‘The Imitation Game‘, which I saw on Sunday. I gave two of those films 5 stars, two were a very close 4 stars, and I recognised ‘Mr. Turner’s‘ qualities, but felt indifferent to the subject matter. It’s a hell of a line up and ‘The Imitation Game‘ is a fine addition, a superb WWII drama about Alan Turing and his team of codebreaker’s attempt to break the seemingly unbreakable Enigma code. The film is directed by Morten Tyldum, who helmed the superb Scandinavian thriller ‘Headhunters‘ in 2011, and whilst the subject matter of this film is more confined to grand offices and large sheds than cross country chases, Tyldum ekes every ounce of tension out of the premise.
The first thing the film gets right is the casting. Since bursting on to the scene as the eponymous Sherlock in 2010 (was it only 4 years ago?!), Benedict Cumberbatch has gone from strength to strength, and this is likely to be the performance that will get him some attention when awards season begins in January. Cumberbatch finds the heart underneath the stiff exterior of genius loner Alan Turing, and his performance is nuanced and carefully measured – it’s a stunning showing and its arguably his best performance to date. The supporting cast is terrific as well, with the always reliable Mark Strong and the magnificent Charles Dance playing senior government officials, who assemble the crew to break the code. The crew itself contains Turing, and is led by Matthew Goode (terrific in 2013’s ‘Stoker‘), Allan Leech (best known for TV’s Downton Abbey) and Keira Knightley, in the only female role of note as Joan Clark.
The film jumps between three timelines, focusing primarily on wartime and the clashes between Turing as his colleagues as to how best to tackle the Enigma machine, but we also jump back to Turing’s childhood to focus on an early friendship with a boy called Christopher (which has later significance), and the tragic years after the war when Turing lives as a recluse and is tried for gross indecency under outdated homosexuality laws. These sections lack the zip of the main sequence but they help to round out Turing as a character and the final section in particular allows Cumberbatch to play off Rory Kinnear (well cast as a police officer). Tyldum’s direction helps to build up the suspense, and the cuts to footage of the war help to emphasise the importance of the work being done in these cold, dark rooms as every German message sent could lead to the loss of allied lives. Graham Moore’s script is terrific and the film is surprisingly funny at times, mainly in the clashes between Turing and his colleagues, yet he knows when to dial it back for the more sombre moments, particularly during the tragic period after the war.
‘The Imitation Game‘ is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema, featuring an awards worthy lead performance and a terrificly engaging, script. Highly recommended.
Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard and Rory Kinnear
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