London Film Festival Review: The Imitation Game

The imitation game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

The Imitation Game, the latest film from director Morten Tyldum who gave us Headhunters (2011) attempts to shed light into the mathematician Alan Turing’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life. It is a life with extraordinary highs and extremely dark lows (unfortunately most of the high points were kept a secret in true government fashion). The movie primarily focuses on the high points of Turing’s accomplishments whilst respectfully representing the darker moments which led to his tragic suicide.

Here is Benedict Cumberbatch playing a familiar role, a sociopathic genius with the ability to wind up anyone that he wants whilst making the audience laugh at the frustration felt by his companions. The inner turmoil that he faces with his own personal secrets and then the secrets of the government however make him more emotionally endearing than the other sociopathic geniuses we are used to seeing Cumberbatch portray

With Britain very quickly losing the war to Gemany, MI6 and the army need a method to crack the seemingly impossible Enigma machine; a machine, which ladies’ man Matthew Goode and fellow cryptologist Hugh Alexander point out, has 159 “million, million” different combinations. Turing sees this as the ultimate problem and cannot resist the lure of the challenge.

After an extremely funny tête-à-tête with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) where both characters exchange brilliant one-liners at each other’s expense, Turing is allowed to “play the game” with the other cryptologist. This is the start of the celebration of Turing’s work that is the movie’s focus.

When he joins the group at Bletchley Park in order to defeat the Enigma machine, Turing wastes no time in winding up the rest of the group and he is eventually frozen out by the team leader Hugh until he can ‘play nicely’. After a conversation with Commander Denniston where Turing takes the completely wrong lesson about bosses and chains of commands, he sends a letter to Winston Churchill with MI6 agent Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) requesting to take control of the group.

Turing’s first action as the team’s boss is to fire the two underlings so he finds himself in immediate need of assistance in order to crack the code. Up steps Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) who surprises Turing with her amazing crossword ability. Not only does Joan provide great mathematical insight into the problem that Turing faces but she eventually manages to ground Turing and teaches him how to be part of a team.

The film has an in-built time bomb with the British having to complete the project before it runs out of money and, more importantly, before the country runs out of food. This means that the film is constantly running against the clock. Despite this, Tyldum succeeds in providing valuable insights into the character development of Turing without sacrificing the pace of the film. This includes aspects of his difficult childhood as well as his fascination with cryptology and his love for his closest friend Christopher, to whom he dedicates all his machines to. Tyldum successfully creates a character who is endearing to the audience, reinforcing the tragedy of Turing’s suicide.

The ‘darker’ moments in the film, where Tyldum portrays the issues of the homophobia and the gender expectations faced by Joan, are peppered throughout the film in small scenes. This means that whilst they are memorable in the moment, they are never explored in any real depth. Therefore these particular issues fail to find any major resonance with the audience as the film ends. Indeed, it appears that the director’s real intention throughout the film is to celebrate Turing’s life; reflected in an ending not of his suicide, but with a scene of a celebration of his life and of his accomplishments.