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The Imitation Game - 'a layered and moving portrayal of a tortured genius'


It's rare that you can describe somebody as a figure who, quite literally, changed the course of history, without being slightly guilty of exaggeration.

Alan Turing may be one of those people and, until recent years, his story - awe-inspiring and tragic in equal measure - was largely unknown. World War II-era drama The Imitation Game aims to redress that injustice as Benedict Cumberbatch turns in another superlative performance as the mathematical genius who helped the Allies win the war before being betrayed and imprisoned by his government.

There's more going on in The Imitation Game than you would think from the surface. Through three separate timelines, it is first and foremost a biopic of Turing - his unhappy childhood at boarding school in the 1920s, his efforts to break the Nazi enigma code at Bletchley Park in the 1940s, and the investigation in to his homosexual behaviour in the 1950s - when such things were still a crime.

In biopic mode then, it is a worthy and watchable drama, all snooty accents, friendships, relationships and lush English country. But dually, The Imitation Game is also a pacy thriller, in which the race against time to crack the enigma code is given a priceless importance and in which snippy Turing is an unlikely hero.

Cumberbatch is perfectly cast in the role, again for two reasons: one, the Sherlock comparisons are all too easy to make. Yes, he's a misunderstood genius who is willing to get people's backs up in order to get the job done. Cumberbatch employs the same cynical playfulness and what-did-I-do-now, faux-innocence on more than one occasion, but this is not simply bringing that detective to the big screen in a different guise.

He gives probably the best performance of his career to date, a layered and moving portrayal of a tortured genius who shuts himself in for his entire life and only feels truly free when he is alone and working on his marvellous invention.

Cumberbatch is front and centre for the entire film, but the supporting cast all prove worthy foils for Turing's customary lack of tact. In particular, his impatient military supervisor, Commander Alistair Denniston (Dance) provides direct adversary and their scenes together crackle with humour and tension. Keira Knightley plays close friend and colleague Joan Clarke, and Allen Leech crowbars a Scottish accent off the page as John Cairncross.

If there's a drawback in the biopic department, it is that for all the pathos on show, we learn little about Turing's later accomplishments; also his imprisonment feels slightly glossed over in the final act.

To sum up, The Imitation Game is a gripping and satisfying film which occupies dual genres, featuring a stunning performance from Cumberbatch. Another one to watch on Oscar night, for sure.

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