Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing troubled men of great intellect; it is arguably how he made his name with BBC’s Sherlock. So in many ways The Imitation Game seems tailor-made to his talents but what is quite magnificent about this film is that it reveals so much more to ‘man-of-the-moment’ Cumberbatch than previously thought.
Charting the life of Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) through three key stages of his life – his school days, his time at Bletchley Park trying to crack the Enigma Code and sitting in a jail cell trying to convince Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) that he is not a Soviet Spy – The Imitation Game looks to dissect the enigma that was Turing.
Because while he may be one of the founding fathers of the clever little gadget that allows you to read this review; the computer, and the man who was instrumental in cracking the German code that allowed the allied forces to win World War II, he was a man in endless conflict with both himself, his peers and society.
Graham Moore’s script unfolds with a smart and often funny approach. First introducing us to Turing as a man of doubtless intelligence but limited social skills there is a hint of The Big Bang’s Sheldon Cooper about the character; that innate inability to comprehend sarcasm and simple humour as he constantly assumes he is the smartest man in the room. But although his arrogance alienates Turing’s gritted determination to crack the code the film doesn’t miss a beat, gradually and carefully allowing us to see into one of the great minds of the 20th Century. Much of this is accomplished through witnessing Turing ever-so-slowly ingratiate himself to his Bletchley Park colleagues, helped no end by his polar opposite, the warm and friendly Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). If there is a flaw to be levied at the film it is that at times you wonder if you could have lost one of the many sub-plots running throughout, but it balances them all so effectively this seems unfair.
The Imitation Game is crisp, never falling into the realms of a made-for-TV drama but rather something altogether grander and incredibly intimate. Director Morten Tyldum, who is not averse to making films with anti-heroes at the core after the jet-black Headhunters, perfectly juggles the obsessive compulsive wants of Turing with the chaotic nature of the man and the war he is a key component in.
But while the war aspect, the espionage and Turing’s increasing frustration at both the politics and lack of progress of events unfold the real emotional pull comes from Turing’s heartbreaking war with himself. He states early on that he knows he’s a bit of an “odd duck”, a kind of Rain Man meets A Beautiful Mind, but the real conflict comes in Turing’s sexuality. Alive in a time when homosexuality was illegal The Imitation Game paints a harrowing and tear-inducing story of a man trying to fit into society in so many ways and constantly finding himself in conflict with what was acceptable at the time.
It is here that Cumerbatch is allowed to thrive. The glass-cutting accents of the era like silk off his tongue but beneath it all Cumberbatch finds levels of emotional pull so strong that you often want to either weep with him or cradle him in your arms until the rocking subsides, and that’s when his pouting arrogance isn’t making you chuckle. Rarely does a performance illicit so many opposing emotions. He is surrounded by a cast all on fantastic form. Matthew Goode is typically charming while often ferocious towards the impossible Turing as Hugh Alexander whilst Mark Strong does British stiff-upper-lip with aplomb, seemingly one of the only people able to go toe-to-toe with Turing and come out at least looking like he’s won. Keira Knightley meanwhile lends a much-needed female component to proceedings and, just as importantly, a friendly face and strong heart to Turing’s otherwise lonely existence.
Riveting, intelligent and utterly heartbreaking The Imitation Game, like its protagonist and lead actor, is mesmerising and powerful.