“Sometimes it is the people that no one imagines anything of that do the things that no one can imagine.”
Benedict Cumberbatch shines in this biopic about the life of Alan Turing, the British genius who helped defeat Nazi Germany through his breaking of the enigma code. Helped by a group of the country’s top mathematicians, Turing must battle not only the enemy across the ocean but also the one society casts him as, due to his secret homosexuality and his inability to deal with those minds he views as inferior.
Films about this period of history often look back with nostalgia at the way the Brits rallied together, the triumph of beating the German rotters and end with a pat on the back for the Allies. But The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum and based on the book by Andrew Hodges, strikes a rather different chord.
Instead of being a film about British pride at winning the war, this film leaves a much sourer taste in the mouth – a feeling of shame at allowing Alan Turing and others like him to be forced to live their lives in secret as they did, a brave choice from a storytelling point of view and one that seems right for the story that is being told.
With a narrative that flits between three different times in Turing’s life – his school days, his time as a cryptanalyst at Bletchley Park and his arrest for indecency in the 1950s – the film manages not to be weighed down by the non-linear storytelling as The Railway Man did. Instead what we get is a comprehensive look at the life of a man sidelined by society for not being like everybody else. As well as Cumberbatch’s moving and transformative performance, Alex Lawther, portraying the young Turing, gives a beautiful performance, managing to emulate the elements of Cumberbatch’s performance perfectly.
However it is an impossibly British biopic, with a seemingly British approach to Turing’s homosexuality – although it is referenced throughout the film his real feelings are never talked about in a frank and honest way as one might hope. Keira Knightley does well with an underwritten role, one that The Guardian has referenced as historically innacurate in their Reel History series. But I can’t help but feel this is irrelevant. There are many details in the film which may not be completely true to form but the story of his life that is presented raises the most important points; Alan Turing helped save millions of lives during World War Two, in complete secret, and was rewarded by the British government with punishment and chemical castration. That is the important story being told here, rather than the ins and outs of who Turing did or didn’t know.
I saw this film at the Peckhamplex cinema, a wonderful independent cinema which shows a wide range of films at only a fiver a go. In these times of £20 3D cinema trips, head down to Peckham and show my new favourite cinema your support.