Film Review: The Imitation Game

Monday 22 June 2015 by

 

The Imitation Game, Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Film, Alan Turing

I was always reticent to watch The Imitation Game. Critically acclaimed, nonetheless I had heard from others that they didn’t enjoy it as much as they had hoped. But when I had to kill some time on my commute, I thought it couldn’t hurt.

The film tells the story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) during the war, and what happens to him shortly thereafter – the remarkable journey as he and a small team of codebreakers attempt to decipher the Enigma machine and end the Second World War. The story now is famous, but for fifty years after the war it wasn’t, and Turing’s legacy was hidden behind scandal and suicide.

There is still a lot of mystery around Turing himself. And the film, in some obscure way, tries to address some of that, whilst trying to keep the drama of the decoding.  It is based on a biography, and so there is a lot about Turing himself – his childhood and his (now suspected but not confirmed) Asperger’s.

The war is happening elsewhere, but it is no less immediate and desperate. Turing and his team are fighting to decode the German’s Enigma machine in time. And it is Turing’s invention – a machine – that is the key to cracking the code. His machine, now famously, is the first computer.

If you ever have a chance to visit Bletchley Park, I thoroughly recommend it as it’s a remarkable place and you can learn a lot more about the work they were doing at Bletchley. And for me, the film didn’t celebrate Bletchley enough. I understand that the film focuses on Turing, but ultimately it was not Turing alone who broke the code, who intercepted the messages and who shortened the war by nearly two years (according to historians). He was a small (although significant) part in the whole thing.

As Turing, Cumberbatch is impeccable (as usual), so it is always a joy to watch his performances. But there is a lack of substance to this film that felt disappointing in comparison to the subject. Perhaps it doesn’t translate to the big screen. After all, there were never any explosions in Bletchley. There was never anything high octane or film-worthy. Just brilliant minds.

The cast is fairly impressive – Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode and Keira Knightley all play significant roles. But it is the unassuming Allen Leech, playing John Cairncross, who steals most of the scenes. He is the most intriguing of the group.

There are good reasons that this film was so popular. But there are also many reasons why it doesn’t live up to expectation – there is never any depth to the subjects they explore, from the science behind the machine to Turing’s criminal conviction as a homosexual (still illegal in those days), something which perhaps contributed to his eventual suicide. It skims the surface, making broad and grand statements, without driving any of the nuance that a film about this complicated man should offer. In the end, it is a damp squib of a film, when it should have been a firework.

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