The Imitation Game - Review Sherlockabilia Shop Now Open

The Imitation Game - Review * 15 November 2014

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A beautifully shot and moving depiction of how the world was forever changed by a man that never quite fitted into it, The Imitation Game brings us a flawless, awards worthy performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Imitation Game is based upon the true story of Alan Turing, a genius mathematician who was recruited during the early stages of the Second World War to aid the attempts to break Enigma, the coding device used by Nazi Germany to encrypt their radio communications - if the device was broken, it would place Britain and its allies on a more equal footing against their powerful military opponent.

The film is explicitly concerned with depicting Turing as a misfit genius, awkward and not terribly understanding of human behaviour and emotion. If that description sounds familiar, disregard that thought, as Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of the man is a world away from Sherlock Holmes - indeed, at times Turing makes Sherlock look positively normal in comparison. There is actually little to say of Benedict's perfect performance however, for it is simply astonishing, veering from coldness to warmth, obsessiveness to humour, and eventually, utter devastation as Turing is cruelly punished by the law for the 'crime' of being a homosexual. Perhaps even more so than the triumphant 'Pride', The Imitation Game is a film that highlights the plight and importance of gay rights in tremendous fashion - Turing's sexuality is just a facet of his character here, not a defining trait. It is not ignored nor used to bludgeon the audience, but the inhumanity of what happened to this quiet, odd and utterly heroic man because of his orientation is an inescapable horror that permeates the entire runtime.


Keira Knightley sparks nicely off of Cumberbatch as Joan Clarke, a much longed for kindred spirit that Turing will do anything to keep at Bletchley Park. Knightley invests Joan with a bubbly warmth that cracks into a cold harshness when suitably pressed, a glimpse of real humanity when placed against the oddness of Turing. Matthew Goode brings an element of tension to proceedings as Turing's contemporary Hugh Alexander, perhaps his mirror image in terms of what could be considered normal, confident and bursting with latent anger. Also excellent is Charles Dance as Commander Denniston, the commanding officer of Bletchley, who frequently locks horns with Turing, military robustness (by way of Tywin Lannister) verses astounding calculations, and Mark Strong is in icy, impenetrable yet darkly humourous form as Stewart Menzies, an MI6 officer overseeing and manipulating events among the code breakers.     

Initially, the structure of the film is perhaps a little jarring. Flitting between Turing's arrest for gross indecency, to the investigation before that, to 1939, and then back again to 1928, the screenplay attempts to conjure a Christopher Nolan-style chronology that feels slightly redundant and a little confusing at first, but thankfully settles down to reveal the method behind the apparent madness, all the timelines coalescing at the close to invest the inhuman, awkward Turing with tremendous emotion and pathos.  The screenplay undoubtedly hits all the critical beats too, with the cracking of Enigma bursting with a dramatic potency that induces an involuntary held breath among the audience.

This moment is a testament of the quiet skill of director Morten Tyldum, a bubble in history that swells towards a huge crescendo after the slow building of failure after failure, and then after it has popped comes the horror of genius - the realisation that breaking the code means they cannot stop every attack the Germans may mount, and people will still die in large numbers. Tyldum invests these critical, central sections with the necessary heartbreak and intensity, as he does indeed the entire film. It shifts brilliantly between the wide scope and the personal stakes, panoramic CGI shots of war sitting next to the quiet sadness of a man turning out the light in a room containing his greatest, world changing creation. Alexander Desplat's beautiful, twinkling score is also a highlight, but is also perhaps responsible for the only potential misstep of the film - by necessity the Germans are portrayed as faceless in the film, hiding behind the metal of their war machine, but the score invests them with maybe too much old fashioned, stereotypical villainy at some critical moments.  

The Imitation Game could be accused of being a perfect piece of awards bait, but more simply it is just an exceptionally constructed film, and that is very much down to the direction and an astonishing central performance that does its utmost to make us understand that normality often is not an advantage, and that in turn makes Alan Turing, arguably one of the greatest, most heroic Britons to ever live far less of an enigma.  

The Imitation Game is out now in the UK, and will arrive in cinemas in the USA on November 28 2014.