Last night I attended the European premier of The Imitation Game. This isn’t entirely true, the European premier at The Odeon Leicester Square doubled as the opening film the 58th BFI London Film Festival. It was simultaneously screened across the country at 30 cinemas. While the stars squelched down the red carpet in pouring rain I was sat 120 miles away in the comfort of Cineworld Birmingham. Given the absence of a large film festival anywhere in the UK outside London and Edinburgh I jumped at the chance of seeing the film over a month before its general release.
By way of introduction, Alan Turing was a British mathematician and computer scientist. An early pioneer of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” he is regarded as the farther of computing, his “Turing machine” is considered a forerunner of what we now know as a computer. During World War II he worked at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking centre. As the head of “Hut 8” he was largely responsible for cracking Naval Enigma. Winston Churchill is believed to have said Turing made the “single biggest contribution to Allied victory”. A decade later he committed suicide after being persecuted by the authorities for being homosexual, a crime at the time.
I first became aware of Alan Turing in the late 90’s when I read Robert Harris’ excellent novel Enigma (published in 1995 and made into a film of the same name in 2001). A fictional account of the battle to decrypt Enigma. Although fictional the film gives a good overview of the exploits of the cryptanalysts of Bletchley Park and encouraged me to read more of the true story that was just becoming public knowledge fifty years after the fact.
Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Alan Turing and to the films credit isn’t afraid of showing the antisocial and socially awkward side of his character. His performance is heartfelt and convincing making it captivating. The supporting cast is excellent with Matthew Goode and Mark Strong being as good as ever and Keira Knightley proving her critics wrong again.
Based on Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges and directed by Morten Tyldum (best known for Headhunters (2011)). The film is well paced and constructed but does suffer from a lack of focus. Told in flashback from his arrest for indecency (for being gay) in 1951 to his school days and his exploits during the war. The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a biography of Turing or a story of the cracking of Enigma. Personally I would have liked to have seen one or the other, either a full bio-pic or a more in depth look at the Bletchley Park years. Anyone who has read up on the subject will learn little from the movie and are likely to enjoy it as a film, but those with little or no knowledge it is perfect introduction.
Not without its faults, but an enjoyable and informative film and a fitting tribute (largely thanks to a monumental performance from Benedict Cumberbatch) to a British war hero who is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Well worth checking out when it goes on general release 14 November 2014.