I don’t think there was anyone more important to the world of technology than Alan Turing. His research has been incredibly important for the development of artificial intelligence and his work at Bletchley Park was the forerunner to the modern computer age. Even in the world of film Turing’s influence cannot be denied, notably the idea of the Turing Test to determine whether something was human or a machine being the inspiration for the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner. Now a film has come out about the life of Turing and, whilst it is a brilliant film, there are a few problems holding it back.
The plot focuses on three key periods of Alan Turing’s life: his schooldays where he discovers his sexuality, his time working on cracking Enigma at Bletchley Park and his prosecution for indecency in the 1950s, with the main focus being the Bletchley Park days. During this we see Turing’s struggles not only to build a device to successfully crack Enigma but also his struggles in connecting with the other codebreakers, the only exception being Joan Clarke, the only female member of the Bletchley Park codebreakers. A lot of the tension in the film comes through wanting to see Turing’s machine work and for the head of Bletchley Park to not shut it down, whilst we know that the machine will work since Enigma was cracked, it’s the wait for when it works that’s the hardest part. Along with this, there’s really interesting stuff about the ethics of what to do once Enigma was cracked since they couldn’t act too much without alerting the Germans that the code had been cracked. The tension is also high as there are constant cuts back to London in order to show the damage that the Germans are doing (filmed with quite terrible CG, although the rest of the production design is excellent). When it gets to the point where Enigma is cracked, it’s a real stand up and cheer moment and it comes at the right point where the break in the tension works. The non-linear narrative also works in revealing key details of Turing’s life at the relevant moments and the two other stories are brilliantly handled. The scenes with Turing as a child are really charming and seeing Turing discover that he’s gay is really touching. On the other hand there’s this sense of complete horror and disgust at the police during the scenes when Turing is prosecuted for indecency. What was done to Turing, along with all openly gay men at the time, was disgusting and it is one of the most shameful periods in British history. If there is a complaint I have with the film, it’s that more could have been done regarding the aftermath of Turing’s prosecution, there’s one brilliant scene but it still feels like something was missing that would make it have a much greater impact.
The performances are the main part of what makes the film work, in particular Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. All of the little idiosyncrasies Turing has Cumberbatch nails, you see him struggling to hide his sexuality and how hard it is for him to connect to people, with the scenes where he does try being some nice relief in the film. You also know throughout the film that Turing is an intelligent person and you have full confidence in his abilities from the start of the film. Keira Knightley also does a great job as Joan Clarke, showing the sexism of the time (when she goes to the Bletchley Park tryout the staff assume she’s a secretary rather than trying out to be a codebreaker) and this enables Clarke and Turing to connect as they are both outsiders. This connection is helped by great chemistry between Knightley and Cumberbatch, especially near the end of the film. There are also great performances from Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard and James Northcote, although only Goode and Leech have a major role. Charles Dance gives a really intense performance as Denniston, showing complete contempt for Turing and impatience with everything that is happening at Bletchley Park whilst Mark Strong gives a quiet, subdued performance as Stewart Menzies, giving him an air of mystery throughout the film, along with this he also has some of the best lines in the film, along with some of the best comedic moments. There’s also good work done by Rory Kinnear, one of my favourite underrated actors, as the officer questioning Turing, showing sympathy to Turing, knowing that what he has to do to Turing is wrong, but he is forced to do it, it’s another really subtle performance that Kinnear nails. Finally, brilliant work is done by Alex Lawther as the younger Turing and Jack Bannon as Christopher, the first person Turing falls in love with and whom he names his machine after, they work brilliantly off each other with Lawther in particular being excellent, showing the first inklings of Turing’s personality and sexuality, with his scenes later on in the film being incredibly moving.
Overall, The Imitation Game is a brilliant film, whilst a few of the actors aren’t given good material to work with, there are a few scenes where the tension feels artificial and I feel like something is missing in the ending, the brilliant script and performances, especially a career best turn from Benedict Cumberbatch, make this an incredibly engaging, moving film.
My Rating: 4.5/5