Release date: 14 November 2014
Running time: 114 min
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance.
Mathematician. Computer scientist. Philosopher. War hero. Alan Turing’s genius cannot be overstated, and his story is as compelling as it is harrowing. The queen posthumously pardoned him last year for the harsh convictions that led to his suicide, after an online petition brought the issue to the attention of government. It is no surprise then that this biopic should be released little less than a year later, featuring man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch on leading role duty.
The Imitation Game is primarily concerned with Turing’s efforts at Bletchley park to decipher the code behind the Nazi Enigma machine, which encrypted the German’s’ wartime messages. Jumping back and forth between several timelines, it also addresses his personal life and the tragic circumstances which led to his death in 1954.
Turing’s story is worth telling, particularly since his extraordinary achievements went unrecognised until long after his suicide. By deciphering the incredibly complex enigma, Turing was able to almost single-handedly shorten the Second World War by up to 4 years, saving millions of lives and securing Allied victory. Adapting this for screen however was always going to be tricky; mathematics and algorithms are hardly high octane subject matter. His private life and homosexuality are addressed to put some meat on its bones, however his disgraceful treatment and harrowing demise fail to stir as they should.
Director Morten Tyldum of 2011’s Headhunters plays to the broadest possible audience, dramatising everything to within an inch of its life. It is an understandable approach, but one which ultimately leaves the experience rather more hollow than one would hope. As these type of biopics tend to do, they are so concerned with their own worthiness that they forget to explore anything beyond the surface level. If you know anything of Alan Turing, you are unlikely to learn anything new.
Cumberbatch certainly does his best to bring Turing to life, and does so with an enviable degree of skill. He often tends somewhat frustratingly towards the overly melodramatic, but its what the material and direction calls for. After making a name for himself playing Stephen Hawking and last year embodying Julian Assange, it would seem that he is drawn towards the challenge of depicting real-life characters. If he continues this trend, then he will certainly be bagging awards in the near future.
The rest of the cast are able enough. Keira Knightley has the most significant central relationship with Turing, and there is palpable chemistry for the most part. Matthew Goode and Mark Strong do a good job of standing around looking posh, and Charles Dance does his best Tywin Lannister of Casterley Rock. It’s all very honourable and worthy, but there is little subtlety at play here. It may be protected by the proclamation of ‘based on a true story’ at its opening, however it does not automatically get a free pass for being so formally bland. A perfectly fine, but ultimately unfulfilling experience.