BREAK FOR AN ENIGMA

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch makes a feast of his role as the trou­bled but bril­liant math­e­ma­ti­cian who broke the Ger­man World War II code

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - JAKE COYLE

Play­ing char­ac­ters like Sher­lock Holmes, Ju­lian As­sange and Stephen Hawk­ing, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch has ac­cu­mu­lated a fil­mog­ra­phy lit­tered with high IQs.

Char­ac­ters of an­a­lyt­i­cal prow­ess and fast-de­duct­ing in­tel­lect have made Cum­ber­batch some­thing like the ul­ti­mate quick­sil­ver mind of the dig­i­tal age. No ac­tor has made com­pu­ta­tion sex­ier.

Cum­ber­batch, re­lax­ing in a Toronto ho­tel room, quickly points out that he has – like his spine­less plan­ta­tion owner of 12 Years a Slave or his painfully shy son in Au­gust: Osage County – played some “pretty dull, or­di­nary” peo­ple: “Let’s say us. I’ve done us, ver­sion of me and you,” he says.

And yet Cum­ber­batch is clearly drawn to highly com­plex, real-life char­ac­ters un­der ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, roles that de­mand tech­ni­cal prepa­ra­tion (an ac­cent, a stam­mer), con­sid­er­able bi­o­graph­i­cal re­search and a pre­ci­sion of ap­proach. Puz­zles to be solved.

“Maybe that’s a fair one,” he says, turn­ing over the idea. “Maybe I do. I think for the rea­sons peo­ple are at­tracted to those char­ac­ters, as well. You can never fully un­der­stand them. There’s al­ways a cer­tain amount of enigma or mys­tery to them.”

Cum­ber­batch’s lat­est rid­dle is Alan Tur­ing, a hugely im­por­tant fig­ure to World War II code-break­ing and a com­puter sci­ence pi­o­neer.

The Imi­ta­tion Game, which opens to­day, is about how Tur­ing and oth­ers at Bri­tain’s Bletch­ley Park solved the seem­ingly un­break­able Enigma code used by the Ger­mans dur­ing World War II.

Win­ston Churchill said Tur­ing made the sin­gle great­est con­tri­bu­tion to the war, but his achieve­ment wasn’t widely recog­nised un­til re­cently, when the work was de­clas­si­fied.

The Imi­ta­tion Game is only partly a tra­di­tional wartime thriller. It’s also a tragedy of so­cial close-mind­ed­ness.

Tur­ing was gay at a time when ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was il­le­gal in Bri­tain. He was con­victed of in­de­cency in 1952 and then chem­i­cally cas­trated. Two years later, at 41, he killed him­self by eat­ing a cyanidelaced ap­ple (de­bate re­mains about his in­ten­tion).

“I see somebody who was trag­i­cally dam­aged and con­tin­u­ally bat­tered by an in­tol­er­ant, non-un­der­stand­ing world, the very world he was try­ing to save and lib­er­ate from fas­cism,” says Cum­ber­batch.

The Imi­ta­tion Game, di­rected by Nor­we­gian film­maker Morten Tyl­dum and writ­ten by Gra­ham Moore, is a kind of ode to out­siders.

Cum­ber­batch’s Tur­ing isn’t just dif­fer­ent be­cause of his sex­u­al­ity, he’s ut­terly an­ti­so­cial. His Bletch­ley col­lab­o­ra­tors in­cluded Joan Clarke (Keira Knight­ley), a rare fe­male in that world.

Knight­ley, a friend of Cum­ber­batch’s since they worked on Atone­ment, calls him the sort of ac­tor who never tries to sim­plify any­thing.

“If it’s a com­plex per­son, he wants to dive into all the com­plex­i­ties and try to get all the nu­ances out,” Knight­ley says. “You com­pletely be­lieve him in any of th­ese roles, whether it’s As­sange, Stephen Hawk­ing, who­ever. He’s very in­tel­li­gent, but he’s got a cu­rios­ity you can see and it sort of burns through his per­for­mances.”

With no footage to draw from for Tur­ing’s man­ner and speech, Cum­ber­batch met with his rel­a­tives. The ac­tor be­gan many of his days jog­ging. (Tur­ing was an elite run­ner) and worked at craft­ing a plau­si­ble stut­ter for the awk­ward math­e­ma­ti­cian.

After The Imi­ta­tion Game, the 38-year-old Brit, who re­cently an­nounced his en­gage­ment to Sophie Hunter, is ready for a sim­pler equa­tion.

“I’ve done evil. I’ve done good. I’ve done smart,” says Cum­ber­batch. “I haven’t done much sexy, sexy, re­ally. I’d like to do a ro­man­tic com­edy.”

Keira Knight­ley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Allen Leech in a scene from

The Imi­ta­tion Game.

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