Review – The Imitation Game

It’s a fascinating, if troubling, thought to imagine how different the world would be without Professor Alan Turing having been in it.

The Imitation Game may not quite discover the unwritten code to great cinema, but it remains an engrossing account of a remarkable man's world-changing accomplishments

The Imitation Game may not quite discover the unwritten code to great cinema, but it remains an engrossing account of a remarkable man’s world-changing accomplishments

Recounting a compliment given to him at school by his best friend Christopher, the person who would have the greatest impact on his life, Turing notes that “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”.

How true. Not only did Turing break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code, but the machine he created to achieve what had previously been thought impossible also unlocked the building blocks that ushered in the computer age.

Professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) with 'Christopher' in The Imitation Game

Professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) with ‘Christopher’ in The Imitation Game

His reward for all this? Chemical castration at the hands of a British government that at the time regarded homosexuals like Turing as illegal deviants.

While Morten Tyldum’s fine adaptation of Andrew Hodges’ book Alan Turing: The Enigma dwells more on Turing the code breaker, his homosexuality isn’t swept under the carpet as some critics have unfairly judged. Rather, it chooses to define its central, enigmatic protagonist by the remarkable accomplishments he made first and his sexuality second.

Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) gets ready for the adventure of a lifetime in The Imitation Game

Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) gets ready for the adventure of a lifetime in The Imitation Game

Whether you agree with that approach or not shouldn’t detract from what is a taut and gripping thriller featuring yet another towering performance from Benedict Cumberbatch in the central role of the complex and difficult Turing.

One of the most interesting, and potentially controversial, aspects of The Imitation Game is its unspoken suggestion that Turing was possibly autistic. The difficulty he has in the film interacting with people, including fellow Bletchley Park code breakers Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech) and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard); his struggle to understand how others feel and think; and the trouble he has expressing his thoughts and feelings about anything except his beloved decryption machine seem to imply this, although we can never know for sure, of course.

Eureka! Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is flanked by Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech) in The Imitation Game

Eureka! Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is flanked by Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech) in The Imitation Game

The only real connection he makes, aside from school friend Christopher (Jack Bannon), is with Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke, although even this bond is more intellectual than anything else. While Turing insists that Joan be given the chance to prove herself (to the frustration of some of his more sexist colleagues) his position isn’t dictated by seeking gender equality; rather he sees a person who can contribute towards realising his single-minded obsession to perfect the code-breaking device.

Tyldum does an effective job of wringing the tension out of the key moment when the breakthrough is made and we, as much as Turing and his team, suddenly comprehend the seismic impact of what they’ve achieved. This is then nicely undercut by the terrible realisation of what they must – and must not – do in order to maintain the illusion to the Germans that Enigma remains unbroken.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets on the wrong side of the military in The Imitation Game

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets on the wrong side of the military in The Imitation Game

The awful personal and professional burden of preserving secrets at all costs eats away at Turing, who ostracises himself so much from Joan and the others that the only person he can turn to is pragmatic MI6 operative Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong).

A cast studded with British thespian talent eats up the material, in particular Charles Dance as Turing’s brusque commanding officer Cdr. Alastair Denniston and Rory Kinnear as the detective who digs into Turing’s past after the war, only to realise too late what he’s done. Knightley holds her own in the film’s only major female part and imbues Joan with more than just plucky English stoicism; there’s a steeliness to her performance and a refreshing depth the actress hasn’t always plumbed.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch  butts heads with Cdr. Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) while Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) looks on in The Imitation Game

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch butts heads with Cdr. Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) while Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) looks on in The Imitation Game

Alex Lawther gives a marvellous turn as the young Turing, an “odd duck” who betrays a gamut of emotions in a single glance towards fellow pupil Christopher – his is a name to watch out for in the future. Cumberbatch, meanwhile, does a superb job of showing just enough of the brilliant professor while still remaining an enigma.

The Imitation Game may not quite discover the unwritten code to great cinema, but it remains an engrossing account of a remarkable man’s world-changing accomplishments.

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21 comments

  1. theipc · November 28, 2014

    This is probably pretty good but I doubt I’ll ever see it – nice work!

  2. le0pard13 · November 28, 2014

    Definitely a must-see for me. Fine review, Mark. 🙂

  3. sati · November 28, 2014

    So glad to read praise for Dance, he was just magnificent on Game of Thrones. Would Keira be a worthy Oscar winner for this?

    • Three Rows Back · November 28, 2014

      He’s a legend isn’t he? Wouldn’t put Knightley in Oscar class here; that’s not to say she isn’t strong though.

  4. Tom · November 28, 2014

    Nice dude. The Imitation Game has really been making some waves. I want to get my beak wet on this one for sure, and reviews like this just do not make it easy. 😀

    • Three Rows Back · November 28, 2014

      Your beak wet? Ha ha; haven’t heard that phrase for ages!

      • Tom · November 28, 2014

        Hey, someone’s gotta bring it back, right? 😉

  5. Joseph@thecinemamonster · November 28, 2014

    Excellent stuff, bud :). Saw this a while back and was thoroughly captivated. Won’t surprise me one bit if (when) Cumberbatch grabs a nomination or two come award season.

    • Three Rows Back · November 28, 2014

      I remember your glowing review mate. Yeah, the Batch deserves a nod or two that’s for sure. Cheers man.

  6. ruth · December 2, 2014

    Great review Mark! I was very impressed by Headhunter and was intrigued when I heard Tyldum is directing this. It’s a good film but seems a little formulaic. Still I enjoyed the performances, not just Cumberbatch in the title role but also the star-studded supporting cast. I agree Keira’s good here, I like her here despite being doubtful about her casting initially.

    • Three Rows Back · December 2, 2014

      It doesn’t take too many chances, agreed. The performances probably mask some of its faults. Thanks for the kind feedback Ruth!

      • ruth · December 3, 2014

        If you mean that the performances made up for the faults, then yeah I agree. I thought Mark Strong was great here, but then he’s always so reliable!

      • Three Rows Back · December 8, 2014

        Strong is so, well, strong in everything isn’t he?

  7. MovieManJackson · December 5, 2014

    Ready for this on Cumberbatch’s performance alone. Great review sir.

    • Three Rows Back · December 8, 2014

      Much appreciated. The ‘Batch can do no wrong at the moment. His stock is very high indeed.

  8. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · December 8, 2014

    Top stuff mate! I really liked this, kept me totally engrossed. It was a little overly sentimental at times and played it a little safe now and again but the performances, pretty much all round, were brilliant.

    • Three Rows Back · December 8, 2014

      Cheers brother. It knows its boundaries doesn’t it? It ain’t gonna rock the boat but it’s certainly engrossing. Glad you liked it too mate.

  9. Victor De Leon · December 21, 2014

    This is the first review I have read for this movie. I knew that it was getting really good buzz but your write up has me even more interested than I was initially upon it’s release. Good work and I am hoping to see this soon. Been a fan of BC for some time now.

    • Three Rows Back · December 21, 2014

      The Batch is pretty much great in everything and he’s very fine here. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it has a lot going for it.

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