THE IMITATION GAME
IN 1952 IT WAS ILLEGAL TO BE GAY, WRITES TIM BAROS. AND SO ALAN TURING WAS CHARGED WITH THE CRIME OF GROSS INDECENCY WHICH EVENTUALLY LED TO HIS SUICIDE. ALAN TURING’S STORY IS TOLD IN THE IMITATION GAME
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the new biopic of Alan Turning’s life
Alan Turing is the man credited with inventing the Enigma machine during the Second World War. It translated German codes into English which helped the Allies defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles by revealing the German army’s positions and plans. Turing’s contribution is said to have saved many lives and shaved at least two years off WWII.
In The Imitation Game, Turing’s life as a code breaker, as well as his life as a young boy, young man, and his later years when he was arrested for being gay is all captured. And Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing is a revelation.
The film begins in 1951 when Turing’s Manchester flat has been burgled by a friend of a young man with whom Turing was having a relationship. During the investigation Turing admits to the relationship with the young man, and they both are charged with gross indecency.
The Imitation Game flips back and forth between Turing’s life as a young boy in boarding school, his days as part of the team hired by MI6 to crack the German Enigma Codes, and the time of his arrest. Sliced in between this is footage of WWII – bombings, sea battles, air raid shelters and bombed-out London, all giving the film a true feeling of being there at that time in those places.
Alan Turing was a prodigy, but, according to the movie, he was also an outcast. He was taunted and teased while he was in boarding school, including at one point having food thrown all over him. His classmates regularly beat him up, and one time they shoved him under the floor boards in school, trapping him beneath a piece of furniture. We are also told that Turing had a close friendship with a fellow classmate whose name was Christopher. They were inseparable, and the film leads us to believe that love was blossoming between the two. Whether this is factual or not is the question.
In his 20s, Turing is portrayed as a loner. He enjoys running in the countryside, and when he’s hired by MI6 at the age of 27 to work at The Bletchley Radio Manufacturing Company, it’s a time when he excels and blossoms. Yet when he’s assigned to work with a group of men, he is uncomfortable and doesn’t quite fit in. These men include ladies’ man Hugh (Matthew Goode) and Scottish John (Allen Leech). One woman does join their ranks, Joan (played by Keira Knightley), and we’re led to believe that Turing fell in love with her and even asked her to marry him. Joan was not a real person in Turing’s life but is perhaps added to the film to bring in a woman’s perspective and a romance to draw more female viewers into what is mostly an all-male film. At first Turing’s male co-workers don’t like him - they find him different, so Joan suggests Turing do something for them, so he brings them apples, and then they all bond. Was life so simple back then?
Turing creates his machine, at great expense and much to the dismay of his commanding officer Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong). Disarmingly, Turing names his Enigma machine Christopher, in honour of his schoolboy crush, who Turing is told has simply disappeared from school. So history shows that Turing and his team were instrumental in helping to end WWII. But unfortunately later in Turing’s life
“Benedict Cumberbatch is superb... It’s a performance worthy of an Oscar”
it would all come to naught after he was convicted for having committed homosexual acts.
The title of The Imitation Game comes from a paper that Turing wrote in 1950 which jump-started the new realm of artificial intelligence (though Turing called it mechanical intelligence). The Imitation Game is based on a true story, but how much of it is true and how much made up turns the movie not into a true life account of Turing’s life but a film that is entertaining, well made - an excellent achievement, which, however, leaves the viewer to be sceptical of the story.
Benedict Cumberbatch is superb. He plays Turing perfectly in all stages of his adult life. We see through him the pain of being an outsider as well as the joy of cracking the code. It’s a performance worthy of an Oscar. Keira Knightley is surprisingly good as Turing’s love interest. As her character never existed, Knightley is tasked with bringing emotion and femininity into the film. She succeeds. The standout in Turing’s team is Goode. But is he who he says he is?
Director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) has beautifully crafted a movie that plays as a history lesson, and all technical aspects of the film are outstanding; from the costumes to the luscious cinematography, to the sets. But it’s the script that most people will have a problem with. Screenwriter Graham Moore, in writing his first film script and who is credited as an Executive Producer, took many liberties in writing this film. Whether this was done to make it more commercial and exciting, it has succeeded. But it’s not a 100% portrayal of the life of Alan Turing. Perhaps someone in the future will make the definitive documentary. Two attempts to tell his story - the 1996 television movie Breaking the Code, and 2011’s Codebreaker - were just that, attempts, and it was hoped that The Imitation Game would be the definitive story of Turing’s life, but alas it is not. But Turing’s life, and legacy, live on.
Turing eventually committed suicide in 1954. In 2013, the Queen pardoned him.
What took so long?
The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum and starring Benedict Cumberbatch it out now.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH AND CHARLES DANCE IN THE IMITATION GAME
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH AS ALAN TURING IN THE IMITATION GAME