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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.The Imitation Game European premier

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.Alan Turing

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.the imitation game

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.the imitation game cast

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. 

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I’m not a diehard fan of Sherlock Holmes but have enjoyed the two novels and handful of short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle that I have read. I didn’t actually read any of them until around five years ago, the problem? Put simply like a lot of people I came to the character via the screen not the page. This is possibly because there have been so many adaptations (beating even Dracula and Robin Hood he is possibly the most portrayed movie character ever), but despite the numerous incarnations I have never been satisfied with the film and TV versions. I have always found them to be just a little dull and full of undeserved self-importance. The mixture of first person narration (via Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson) and third-person omniscient narrative is an important part of books giving an insight into Holmes from the point of view from an everyman. This doesn’t always translate to the screen. There is also an issue of setting; whether on television or the big screen of the cinema, the Victorian setting is rarely convincing, probably because of financial constraints but more likely a twee vision of the past.

There have been attempts to make original movies based on the characters like Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Without a Clue (1988). They are both great ideas but the execution is only partly successful. Now after years of been under-whelmed by adaptations there have been two successful takes on the story in a short space of time. Firstly, the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. Then a year later came the BBC TV show Sherlock created by Mark Gatiss and Steven (Doctor Who) Moffat, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. Changing the setting from the Victorian era to the present day is the shows biggest risk but turns out to be the greatest accomplishment. The reason it works so well is the way it plays with the character within its modern setting. How he interacts with modern society and technology is both interesting and amusing. It is also fun to spot the original plots and ideas that are shoehorned into the modern stories, some more obvious than others. The second (sadly too short) series of the TV show premiered just a couple of weeks after the release of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), the sequel to the Guy Ritchie movie.

So why do these two adaptations work so well when previous incarnations have been so dull and predictable? Firstly I think I have to say diehard Sherlock Holmes fans will probably hate them and that is why I think they are so good. The biggest criticism of films based on books that I tend to hear is that they aren’t faithful to the book. What people who say this forget or aren’t willing to admit is that books and movies are very different mediums and therefore movies shouldn’t slavishly follow the books, especially when they are telling hundred year old stories that are well known. A perfect example of this is Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. Taking parts of the plot from graphic novels (notably Batman: Year One) but essentially creating a new story from the mythology of the character. The same is true of James Bond, although there have been many missteps along the way, the story has remained up-to-date and relevant long after Ian Fleming’s original stories had dried up.

The thing that both the new film and TV incarnations have in common is a perfect balance of when to be silly and when to be serious. That balance is different in both cases in keeping with the dynamic of the version but works equally as well. As does the casting that is perfect in both. Getting the same things right also means they get a lot of the same things wrong. The constant bickering and reconciliation between the characters is overdone as is the overplayed bromance. These in themselves are minor criticisms but could get worse if they string things out for to many sequels/seasons. They also get the supporting cast right with Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss is the TV show, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan and Geraldine James in the films. The films also boast Mark Strong and Jared Harris amongst their villains.

If you haven’t seen the film or TV show because of any preconceptions, I hope I have convinced them to give them a go. Similarly, if you are a fan of either version but haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, why not start at the beginning and pick up a copy of A Study in Scarlet (first published in 1887) and start reading.

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