Genre: Biography, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech
“Are you paying attention?” inquires Alan Turing at the very start of The Imitation Game. He may be the one delivering the question, but it is Morten Tyldum who is asking it. The story of Alan Turing is one we all should know, one we should have been made to learn and then write about while we were at school. Yet it remains one that few of us are unlikely to have heard before now. All too aware of this, Tyldum ensures the complete concentration of his class from the start, crafting a rich and absorbing lesson that details Turing’s incredible accomplishments.
It was from a wooden hut within the grounds of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire that Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) fought the Second World War. Placed in charge of a group of cryptanalysts (here played by Matthew Goode, Kiera Knightley, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, and James Northcote) by Churchill himself, Turing endeavoured to crack the “unbreakable” Nazi Enigma Code by building an electro-mechanical device (known today as a Bombe) that would be capable of breaking Enigma-coded messages almost immediately.
Tasked with bringing this astonishing story to life, Tyldum approaches his subject by building a Bombe machine of his own. Just like Turing’s, Tyldum’s device is a composition of different cogs and wheels, which work together in unison here to unlock the enigma of Turing’s triumphant work, and his tragic post-war conviction for engaging in homosexual relations that eventually led to his suicide in 1954.
Tyldum compounds various components in his bid to tell Turing’s tale. He is the electrical current that flows through the machine. He systematically engages Oscar Faura’s camera with Maria Djurkovic’s authentic production design, fully immersing the audience within a coldly coloured wartime setting. The mood evoked from such icy hues is an ominous one that Tyldum is careful to equilibrate through other dynamics; namely the superb ensemble. Humour is infused through the likes of Mark Strong and Charles Dance as Alan’s commanding superiors, while the ever-reliable Keira Knightley brings added warmth and heart as Turing’s friend and one-time fiancé Joan Clarke.
Certainly the most prominent mechanism in Tyldum’s configuration is his lead performer. Benedict Cumberbatch is justifiably considered to be one of our finest contemporary character actors, and has been for a while now thanks to a string of unforgettable performances that can be found across the spectrum of the art form. Yet it is as Turing that Cumberbatch makes his biggest impact to date. It is a layered performance of extraordinary depth. Alan is a wholly engaging character who is riddled with complexity, laced with vulnerably, ingrained with poignancy, and augmented with wit.
There’s great humour to be found in the early scenes between the socially inept Turing and his colleagues, particularly in his first encounter with Charles Dance’s Navel Commander. Tension simmers as we watch Alan, primarily aided by Joan and Matthew Goode’s Hugh Alexander, attempting to harness the darkest recesses of his brain in order to discover the key that will allow his Bombe to break the code. And hearts are broken as Alan’s slowly building inner pain bursts forth and reveals itself in a devastating final scene that commands you to question our nation’s historic attitudes towards homosexuality.
Scribing his first feature length script, screenwriter Graham Moore treads a fine line between biopic and drama, ensuring a balance is found between the various elements of Turing’s story. For the most part the narrative remains focused on Alan during the War, emphasizing how his phenomenal genius and eventual achievements helped the Allied forces to victory. While flashbacks to Turing’s days spent at an all-boy’s boarding school, driven by an affecting performance from newcomer Alex Lawther, compile a tale of love and loss that heartbreakingly reverberates throughout the film.
There are times when the script does cause Tyldum’s machine to splutter. The dialogue strays into the realms of sentimentalism at regular intervals. The pace is occasionally slackened by the inclusion of poorly rendered scenes from the frontline, which only serve to unnecessarily reinforce the point that the longer Turing takes, the more the Allied forces will suffer. And, most significantly, despite the best efforts from Cumberbatch, the subject of Turing’s homosexuality seems to be oddly downplayed more often than it perhaps should be.
None of this can detract from what Tyldum has managed to achieve. His film is a mechanical marvel that whizzes under his command and whirrs thanks to the compelling performances that are fused with Moore’s well-tuned script. It’s likely that none of us would be where we are today if it wasn’t for Alan Turing, and now, thanks to The Imitation Game, you’ll know why.