The 2015 Academy Awards recognised the The Imitation Game with only one award (Best Adapted Screenplay); a result that does not accurately reflect the merit of this film. The Imitation Game is undoubtedly one of the finest films produced in 2014. The lead performances, screenplay, music, direction and editing are outstanding. It is a travesty that this film has not received wider recognition.
The Imitation Game tells the story of a small group of gifted intellectuals who were recruited to work as cryptanalysts with the sole purpose of breaking the Enigma Code used by the German military to coordinate operations during World War 2. The team in real life was led by Alan Turing, a brilliant and highly eccentric mathematician. Unbeknown to his colleagues, Turing was homosexual in a time when it was considered to be a criminal offence.
Over a number of years, Turing and others at Bletchley Park, just north of London invented the world’s first computer to help unravel the complexities of the Enigma Code. They were ultimately successful and breaking the code is credited with bringing the war to a close possibly eighteen months earlier than expected. The work was one of the most secretive operations of the war. Had the Germans suspected their communications were no longer secure, measures would have been taken immediately to create new and potentially unbreakable codes that would have had prolonged the war with devastating consequences for the Allies.
The criminal consequences of homosexuality at the time had serious implications for Turing. He became aware of a traitor within his code breaking team who was providing top secret information to the Russians. In a classic case of blackmail, the traitor threatened to reveal Turing’s homosexuality to the Police if his Russian allegiance was exposed. The tensions created by this situation were ever present throughout the code breaking work and continued well after the war when Turing was arrested in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ and then forced to endure the humiliation of chemical castration in lieu of a jail sentence.
The title for the film cleverly exploits the many deliberate ambiguities contained within the story. The true purpose of the code breaking team was known only to a select few and a pretence was maintained to deflect analysis by outsiders and thereby avoid closer scrutiny. Turing hid his homosexuality from outsiders but did share his secret with fellow code breaker Joan Clarke to whom he proposed marriage. Clarke was unfazed by his revelation but Turing decided he could not proceed with the marriage and ended their engagement in 1941. Once the code had been broken, further deceptions were practised to ensure this breakthrough was not made known to the enemy. Imitation and pretence therefore played a major role in safeguarding the project and the personal life of Turing in particular.
The outstanding performance in The Imitation Game is that by Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Alan Turing. Cumberbatch provides a compelling and totally convincing portrayal of a shy, highly sensitive, eccentric, socially awkward but brilliant individual charged with leading a team with whom he has very little in common. His one ally within the team is fellow cryptanalyst Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightly. Turing lives in a world of his own with a mind that functions in ways that most others cannot comprehend. Cumberbatch is superb in the way he embraces the nuances of Turing’s character, fears and foibles. His performance is powerful and emotive displaying enormous depth as he struggles under the weight of expectations from superiors and colleagues and the inner turmoil of dealing with his own sexuality. Cumberbatch enables us to empathise with the real life Turing and to understand the vital role he played in helping to bring the war to an end. We also come to understand the torment and the sacrifice Turing endured in a world far less tolerant than our own today.
Despite the views of Hollywood, The Imitation Game is a film that embraces every element that constitutes the very best of cinema storytelling. It should not be missed.
The Imitation Game is now available on DVD. Running time 1hr.54 mins. Produced by the Weinstein Company.