Everyone knows that we won the Second World War, but many are unlikely to realise how integral Alan Turing was in achieving that victory. Three cheers then for Morten Tyldum, who has triumphantly opened this year’s London Film Festival with The Imitation Game, a stirring account of Turing’s extraordinary wartime accomplishments, which is almost as well constructed as the mathematician’s own code-breaking machine.
Scribing his first feature-length film, screenwriter Graham Moore crafts a rich and absorbing account of Turing’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life. We first meet him in a police interrogation room, where he has been remanded in custody on a charge of ‘gross indecency’. During the interview that follows, we are transported to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire at the outbreak of World War 2, where Turing, begrudgingly aided by a team of cryptanalysts (Kiera Knightly, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, & Matthew Beard), endeavoured to build a machine that would be capable of cracking the German Enigma Code.
Aided by Moore’s masterful script and Maria Djurkovic’s authentic production design, Tyldum acts as a lecturer to the history lesson we should all have had at school, but which we were shamefully never taught. Maintaining a resolute focus on his subject from behind the camera throughout, the director teaches us about both Turing’s professional triumphs and personal traumas, formulating a masterfully detailed character study that’s fused together with moments of suspense, inspiration and tragedy to deliver a wholly engrossing cinematic experience.
Integral to its success is the superb performance that lies at the film’s core. Benedict Cumberbatch has long since established himself as one of the industry’s greatest contemporary character actors, but even when held up next to this high standard, his performance as Turing stands out. On the surface he easily convinces as a socially inept academic, imbuing the film’s generally sombre tone with many lighter moments; particularly in the early introductory scenes with Charles Dance’s Navel Commander and Mark Strong’s head of MI6. However, it is the levels of depth the actor succeeds in reaching during the film’s more commanding moments that truly hypnotises you. Cumberbatch effortlessly embodies Alan’s complex inner pain. He understatedly forms and then meticulously develops an emotional inner core, which slowly rises to the surface throughout before bursting forth in a truly devastating final scene that will no doubt headline the inevitable award nominations he’ll receive in the new year.
Guided by Cumberbatch’s performance, The Imitation Game fully immerses us in Alan’s story. Within the flashbacks of Bletchley Park are brief recollections of Turing’s tumultuous time at an all-boys boarding school, which gives greater emotional context to his inner turmoil as a whole thanks to a strong and effective performance from newcomer Alex Lawther as the young Alan. Meanwhile, the compelling supportive turns from the likes of Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode give further grounding to Alan’s idiosyncrasies, and also underline just how remarkable and important what happened at Bletchley Park was to the war effort.
Unfortunately it does occasionally falter. Tyldum oddly feels the need to continually add scenes of poorly rendered CGI battles to reinforce his point that the longer it takes for Turning & co. to crack the Enigma code, the more allied deaths there are; an unnecessary distraction that momentarily slackens the pace. And, as you would expect, there are some scenes that stumble in to the realms of sentimentalism.
Yet that’s not enough to truly detract from what Tyldum has achieved. None of us would probably be here now if it wasn’t for Alan Turing, and now, thanks to The Imitation Game, you’ll know why.