Morten Tyldum directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in the Alan Turing Biopic The Imitation Game. Turing was a man of immense genius, one whom Winston Churchill credited with the “single greatest contribution to ending the second world war”. Turing along with other cryptologists at britain’s Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma machine’s code effectively ending the war by laying bare the german communication to the allied troops. Tyldum has based the movie on a script by Graham Moore who adapted the book by Adrew Hodges.
The movie opens in 1952 with Turing in prison for questioning on the suspicions of being a soviet spy. Cumberbatch’s voice over asks us to pay attention and asks us the question “am I a national hero, a criminal or a spy”. As it turns out Turing wasn’t a spy and the events that led to his arrest had very little to do with espionage but more to do with his homosexuality which in the 50s was still a punishable offence in Britain. The movie keeps flitting between the periods of 1952 when Turing was arrested, the war time 1939-1942 and the formative years of Turning at a boys school where he was bullied and harassed for being different.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, Kiera Knightley plays Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode plays John Hughes and Mark Strong plays Menzies. I am as big a fan of Sherlock star Benedict as the next Cumberbitch (fans of Cumberbatch are known as cumberbitches) but to me he is the worst and the most obvious choice to play the irascible genius as he has played the same character in Sherlock and as Kahn in Star Trek. The performance does nothing unexpected or exciting. There are moments where Cumberbatch shines but they are far too few to warrant a Oscar win or even a nom as most punters are betting. Kiera Knightley as the only woman cryptographer has a role that is underdeveloped. She is chosen to join the team at Hut8 but her parents refuse and then Turing manages to deceitfully get them to agree and she is off to Bletchley but up until the point where they are engaged never once is Joan seen in Hut8 and instead seems to be whiling her time away with the other women at Bletchley intercepting the encoded messages. It is a befuddling tangent of storytelling at best. Goode plays the cool, suave yet genius John Hughes in a performance that is reminiscent of his Ozymandias from Watchmen. The problem with these castings is that they are lazy and almost a stereotype of the kind of roles these otherwise brilliant actors are known to play. I would much rather have Goode or even Ben Wishaw play Turing but they aren’t big enough names to attract top billing unfortunately.
Graham and Tyldum do well to go into the most significant aspects of the story of Turing’s life, the arrival at Bletchley, the approval for building Christopher by going over the commanding officer and directly to Churchill, the eventual breakthrough, the debriefing, the arrest of Turing for public indecency, the chemical castration. But these events become mere checkpoints that the director and the cast tick off while hurtling towards the conclusion. There is no finesse when it comes to any of the above mentioned plot points, for instance the approval for Christopher is not only Turing’s effort but that of the entire team at Hut8 and the arrest and the interrogation that follows, which forms the opening scene of the movie is ended abruptly and Nock who is handling the investigation is handed a newspaper confirm that Turing is sentenced for Indecency a charge that he, Nock was fighting against. Also as with most biopics the closing scenes which list out what happened with the characters after the events in the movie this one does so as well. But rather than the half-hearted attempt of bullet-pointing how Turing was given a royal pardon if they had only ended it with the statement Gordon Brown made which was best summed up as “ we are sorry, you deserved much better”.
Gordon Brown’s ending remarks on the apology are how I felt about the movie myself. This is no doubt a honest and fine attempt at telling the life of perhaps the most influential figure in modern history. His pioneering work set the pace for the advent of computing in the right sense, his work at Bletchley saved 14million lives, his entire contribution was shrouded in secrecy and he was mistreated by the society because of his“different-ness” , it was his “different-ness” that saved the very society. But because of the towering nature of his contributions and the fantastic life that he lived which could serve as an inspiration to so many his story deserved to be told in a better fashion than a run of the mill biopic which is nothing but a Oscar-bait being distributed by the Weinstein brothers. Don’t miss this movie because even if mis-cast Benedict Cumberbatch is a treat to the eyes and ears both and Alan Turing’s story is the one that must be told over and over again till someone gets it right. And after you have seen the movie go read up on the life of this genius who changed the world for the better and still got nothing in return from it.