The Imitation Game (2014)
Dir: Morten Tyldum
Academy Award Nominations: Motion Picture. Leading Actor. Supporting Actress. Directing. Adapted Screenplay. Editing. Production Design. Original Score.
Queen Elizabeth II unintentionally helped set this film up to be a huge success, and it worked!
This is a historical biopic of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a gifted mathematician who was instrumental in breaking the enigma code in World War II, by creating one of the first computers along with his colleagues at Bletchley Park, including a young woman (Keira Knightley) with whom he develops a rare friendship.
The story of solving the enigma code has been told on film before. First to come to my mind was the obvious 2001 ‘Enigma’ with Kate Winslet, which was heavily criticised for fictionalising far too much and not mentioning Turing. ‘The Imitation Game’ however seems far more historically based and accurate, and puts Turing front and centre of the story while also elaborating on his life before and after working at Bletchley. Somehow the film doesn’t fall into the trap of getting distracted or overcomplicated with other things, the strands of the narrative are set in separate time periods and give insights to each part naturally rather than bogging the film down with side-issues or exposition.
Three different time periods in Turing’s life are shown, primarily the period while he was working at Bletchley, bookended with his arrest years after, with occasional scenes from his youth at school. Narrated in places by Turing in a very direct and firm manner which feels like it breaks the fourth wall but isn’t actually doing so as revealed later, the first line of the whole film is ‘Are you paying attention?’ and from that moment you are, as the viewer is told that what they’re about to hear is important. A diligent police officer (Rory Kinnear) while looking into a burglary at Turing’s house suspects something and comes to the conclusion that he’s involved in spying. The reality however, Turing’s sexuality, is kept quiet for a while, and I thought it good how it’s under wraps until discovered by police, until then his relationship with Joan even has some resemblance of a romance. For the first half of the film, we the viewer are sharing in solving a puzzle just as Turing and the policeman are both also doing. This time period includes a brief moment of foreshadowing, with Alan Turing cleaning cyanide off the floor at the very beginning, even before the opening title.
Cumberbatch is key to the film’s success as the focus is almost completely on Alan Turing and his own focused determination to succeed with his work. It’s been suggested that he may have had Asperger syndrome, and his performance displays a number of signs of this clearly. Encapsulated in Turing is a brilliant mind, while being a loner who struggles to work well with others, while secret keeping is integral in Turing whole life both personal and professional, and Cumberbatch conveys all of this. In latter scenes the effect of his chemical castration medication is shown, through twitching and an inability to work or concentrate. Turing chose castration over prison so he could work, and because the character has been conveyed so well throughout the film these final moments are very effective, as by then we fully understand his motivations and emotions. Credit also must go to Alex Lawther who plays Alan in his school days. His performance is excellent, he gets the accent and mannerisms to match up with Benedict Cumberbatch’s so that they compliment each other beautifully.
There’s far more to the film than just a few solid performances. The Academy Award nominated adapted screenplay is solidly written, the dialogue feels convincingly of the time. I think one of the main strengths of the film is how the code-breaking is not just shown as an academic achievement by people locked away in rooms. Using the ability of film to show rather than just say, through a little archive news footage and some detailed recreation of fighter planes and rolling tanks we are given brief scenes of the ongoing war, these serve to show why the work being done was so important. The full impact of their work is also highlighted when they make a major breakthrough but are faced with an immediate moral dilemma of the most hard-hitting and personal manner. Adding gravitas and emotional heft to a film like this with a difficult protagonist and an often overused setting and era is no easy feat, yet I feel that has definitely been achieved.
This has resulted in the film being nominated for many Oscars, eight in total, though this comes as no surprise when you know that the Weinsteins are involved. One of the Academy Award nominations is for the very good score, putting Alexandre Desplat in the running with some fierce competition (including himself for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’). Unsurprisingly there are also nominations for the amazing British cast, principally Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. Many actors this year seem to be in two Oscar nominated films each, Knightley is also in ‘Begin Again’ which is nominated for ‘Best Original Song‘, and Cumberbatch gave his voice to Smaug in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’. It’s particularly nice to see him getting a nomination this year, last year he was in 4 Oscar nominated films but not personally nominated though none of those roles were anything like this one. Gaining him his first Academy Award nomination and first film BAFTA nomination, this role may possibly lead to his first wins, they certainly seem unlikely to be his last nominations.