“Sometimes, it’s the people who no-one can imagine anything of that do the things no-one can imagine.” This is the bittersweet, repeated mantra of The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum’s biopic of Alan Turing, whose distance from the rest of society is the source both of great achievement and of tremendous suffering.
The film’s parallel storylines follow the mathematician’s time at boarding school, his employment in the task of breaking the codes set by Germany’s Enigma machine during WWII, his prosecution for homosexuality, and his subsequent decline in the 1950s. Working as the head of a team of code-breakers at the top-secret Bletchley Park, Turing’s contribution to the war effort was momentous, but the injustice dealt to him afterwards was on an equally large scale.
Turing was fascinated with the concept of whether a computer could think for itself, and the role of machines is integral to the film, with Turing feeling true affection for his creation and even being compared to a machine himself because of his detached and apathetic semblance towards some. However, while it is a machine that ultimately defeats the Enigma, it took the mind of Turing to create this machine, and his humanity, which in many ways eclipses others of his time, eventually shines through when he is the only one to believe that a woman could have solved the puzzle that he set for the purpose of recruiting code-breakers.
This woman is called Joan Clarke and is portrayed by Keira Knightley, who is effortlessly strong enough to convey the assertion of her character within an incredibly male-dominated world. It is through Joan’s firm yet platonic relationship with Alan that The Imitation Game illustrates its appealing message that abnormality can be a positive and should be celebrated.
The key theme of Graham Moore’s impeccably crafted script is how being forced to keep secrets is fundamentality detrimental to the people who have to. There are secrets between friends, loved ones and co-workers — not to mention those guarded against the enemy — and those working at Bletchley are at times faced with the inhumane predicament of having to withhold information that could have saved citizens in danger in order to save others later. They are not even able to reveal anything of what they did when the war has ended, and the toll of years of lies can latterly be seen in the emaciated face of Turing, whose homosexuality is the most crucial barrier to his own acceptance in society.
The Imitation Game does not shy away from the time after which this crucial secret did come out, or the unthinkable way in which Turing’s country repaid him for his services. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in the lead role, which is towering from start to finish, reaches its pinnacle at this point in the film, with his stark emotion evoking the sad truth of how Alan Turing met his end.
Elevated by Cumberbatch’s unerring portrayal, the film is equally spot-on in its depiction of the mindset of an era. Not since The King’s Speech has a British film so evocatively captured the passions of a nation at war. In The Imitation Game, archive footage from WWII and subtle touches like the inclusion of an ‘Air Raid Breakfast’ on the menu in a café serve as time-markers, but it is the unity of the population, with men and women working together to do their duty for those out fighting in Europe, that gives the truest sense of the period.
There are a few awkward moments of protracted exposition at the beginning, but Tyldum’s fantastic ability to tell a story soon takes over. There are moments of comedy and of heartfelt jubilation, but the much darker days of the later, unforgivable events in Alan Turing’s life are also treated sensitively, and it is this that raises The Imitation Game from the perfect film for a weekend afternoon to a fitting tribute to a national hero.