Friday 22 September 2017

The Imitation Game - 'cracking tale captures code of misconduct toward a genius'

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game

George Byrne

Drama. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Cert 12A

4*

It says a great deal for the skill of the British secret services (not a phrase one gets to use too often) that the very existence of one of the most important operations of the Second World War managed to be kept from the general public until the best part of 40 years after the conflict ended.

The Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park was established at the outbreak of the war and its primary task was to crack the Germans’ Enigma code, a fiendishly difficult cypher which changed settings every 24 hours.

Central to the effort to break down Enigma was Alan Turing, a genius mathematician and lateral thinker who was essentially the father of the modern computer.

Effectively written out of history due to his conviction for homosexuality in 1952 and suicide in 1954, he received a posthumous royal pardon last year and The Imitation Game should cement his rightful place in history.

Played onstage and on TV by Derek Jabobi in Breaking the Code in the late 80s, here the complex character is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch with a performance which already has the ‘O’ word being bandied about. I probably wouldn’t go that far myself but there’s no denying that Cumberbatch delivers a terrific turn in a well-crafted and gripping film.

As we know, the British do stiff upper lip period drama awfully well, so it comes as something of surprise to discover that The Imitation Game has been directed by Morten Tyldum, the Norwegian who gave us the bloodsoaked black comedy Headhunters.

Tyldum unfussily frames Graham Moore’s script between Turing’s arrest in Manchester in 1951, where an interview with Detective Robert Nock (a fine Rory Kinnear) leads us back to the mathematician’s arrival at Bletchley Park in 1939.

Being somewhat lacking in social skills, Turing initially alienates his commander (Charles Dance) ousts unit leader Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) but receives the backing of shadowy Mi6 operative Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong).

Turing is also crucial in recruiting the team’s only female member Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the pair forming a friendship which offers us a glimpse of the man’s inner life beyond riddles and numerical patterns.

In essence though, The Imitation Game is a classic ‘race against time’ tale with the added intrigue of how the authorities would deign to use the information they had once Enigma had been cracked.

What comes across too is just how callous and heartless the establishment could be in the treatment meted out to a man who’d arguably saved a couple of million lives but was  doomed because of his sexual preferences.

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