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Imitation Game, The


Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Alex Lawther

Director: Morten Tyldum

In this gripping ‘based on a true story’ American/British thriller, idiosyncratic genius Alan Turing is credited with winning WW2 for the Allies (or, at the very least, shortening it by some two years) by cracking the apparently unsolvable Enigma code the Germans were using to communicate during the war.

Almost inevitably, a movie “based on a true story” tends to mean that only the facts have been changed/elided for better box-office. That said, The Imitation Game is a dramatized biopic designed to make money for its producers and not posing as an empirical historical textbook.

Graham Moore’s strong screenplay (based on the book ‘Alan Turing: the Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges) gives Benedict Cumberbatch the role of his screen career as homosexual genius Turing and he makes the most of it, delivering a powerful and riveting characterisation that balances his heady days investigating Enigma at Bletchley Park during WW2 and his devastating post-war fate when, in 1952, he was arrested for gross indecency and convicted for the then criminal offence of homosexuality, he was chemically castrated and committed suicide in 1954.

Norwegian Morten Tyldum‘s exemplary direction tells Cumberbatch’s story brilliantly, segueing between his arrogant days as the ruthless in-house genius of Bletchley (“You need me more than I need you” he tells his icy superior officer Charles Dance), his unhappy schooldays as a 15-year-old at Sherborn School in the late 1920s and his tragic post-war fate.

The story, both inspiring and depressing, is excellently acted throughout: there are no poor performances from an excellent supporting cast which highlights Keira Knightley as a crossword genius who joins the code-breakers and gives the story its essential-for-the-box-office feminine appeal

However the triumph is undoubtedly Cumberbatch’s. He may be older than the character he plays but he is blindingly charismatic. It’s far and away his best work to date and happily cancels out my less than impressed memories of his lackluster contributions to 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County which had me thinking (and how wrong I was) that, like Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing before him, he would probably end up being best remembered as Sherlock Holmes.

His commanding portrayal has already won Cumberbatch the Best Actor prize at the Hollywood Film Awards: given producer Harvey Weinstein’s impressive track record in ‘achieving’ awards, an Oscar nomination would seem to be a dead cert. And a win, too, although personally I believe Eddie Redmayne’s extraordinary portrait of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything eclipses Cumberbatch.

Should Cumberbatch find his ego over-swelling with pride at all the (justified and probably inevitable) praise being showered on him, it is worth mentioning perhaps that movie stars are not everything to everyone.

Baroness Trumpington, who worked at Bletchley at the same time as Turing, referred to the star as “the chap who played Turing” in her ‘review’ of The Imitation Game on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. Now, that’s Show Business.

Alan Frank

UK/USA 2014. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour.
114 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 16 Nov 2014