Sunday, 18 January 2015

Film Review #74

The Imitation Game (2014)
Director: Morten Tyldum Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Alex Lawther

Certificate: 12A Running Time: 114 Minutes

Tagline: "The true enigma was the man who cracked the code."

War is a nasty business, I don’t think there are too many people that would dispute that, and few were quite as ghastly as World War II. The fear, the blood, the horror of battle are hard to imagine for oafs like me, but as this new British release helmed by Norwegian, Morten Tyldum, demonstrates, life wasn't necessarily filled with happy frolics for most of the chaps and lasses back in old Blighty either. They were getting the crap bombed out of them by those pesky Jerries and most of the ships attempting to leave or approach British ports ended up at the mercy of U-Boats so supplies were running low as well. The key to it all was Enigma, the machine used by the Germans for enciphering and deciphering the many messages they used for passing on orders, coordinating their troops and ships, and for pretty much all other communication as well. What the Allies needed was someone smart enough to break it.

Arriving at Bletchley Park to get cracking...

Luckily for the mystified staff and officers at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, England, just such a person may have been dropped in their laps in Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), a mathematician/cryptanalyst who has just arrived in application for the job. Of course, as most people are probably already aware, his appointment was not only quickly beneficial to the programme but ended up being crucial to the war effort in general, and as if that wasn't enough, his work would also go on to lay the very foundations of computer science. Tragically, his life was also a short one - his body was found following his apparent suicide shortly before his 42nd birthday, something brought on by the effects of the 'chemical castration' he chose instead of imprisonment as punishment for his homosexuality - something still illegal in the UK at the time.

Turing working on his beloved 'Christopher'...

That was the motivation implied by this film at least, but the bulk of it focuses on his work at Bletchley Park, and it doesn't get off to the smoothest of starts, mainly due to Turing's attitude. He's portrayed as something of an intellectual snob; arrogant, often rude, and lacking in social graces and sense of humour. Whilst these traits are at least exaggerated, they quickly make him unpopular with his immediate 'boss', Cdr. Denniston (Dance) and his fellow code-breakers, Hugh Alexander (Goode), John Cairncross (Leech) whom he angers further still by refusing to assist in their code-breaking efforts, believing them to be a waste of time, and focusing instead on the construction of 'Christopher', a large and expensive electro-mechanical machine which he was convinced could break the Enigma codes in a fraction of the time... once it was built and working.

Turing and his team get to grips with the Enigma machine...

His behaviour quickly earns him the contempt of most of his peers, and perhaps deservedly so to some extent. The only person that really seems to 'get' him, at least at first, is Joan Clarke (Knightley) who eventually becomes his closest friend. This is one of a few aspects of the film which has proved a little controversial due to its inaccuracy but for many film/book fans this is already a well-known tale so what makes this example special? Well, the direction and production values are as grand as one might expect of a now-multiple-Oscar-nominated picture, and the story is well paced, which includes flashbacks to a young Turing as a schoolboy (played superbly by Lawther) as well as the odd glimpse of the war itself to remind us of the urgency of the work at Bletchley Park, but probably the greatest triumph of the film is a riveting performance from Cumberbatch. Overall though, it's still an incredibly important story and it needed to be told this well.

RKS Score: 9/10


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