Let me begin: Alan Turing was an extraordinary man. A relative unknown to the general public until recently, Turing saved and transformed the lives of generations to follow. A genius, an innovator and symbol of a world we’ve left behind, at long last we’ve begun celebrate his life, acknowledge his wondrous achievements and the devastating treatment he was subjected to towards the end of his life.
This is why The Imitation Game was so important. Every since I first learnt about this man, I’ve wanted to spread the word and somehow put into words how important he is (or should be) to everyone. I never quite managed it, either by fudging through the science-y bits or feeling terribly angry and saddened by his untimely suicide and persecution due to his sexuality. I was glad to hear that he had received an official pardon from our government and yet somehow infuriated that he even needed one. A pardon!? A pardon for what exactly? He deserved an apology, a vow, a promise to never go back, to learn and reflect. Thankfully, we got that. Now all that was needed was something far more articulate than me to get his story out there. A film with a star.
With The Imitation Game, we have one. Benedict Cumberbatch is riding on the crest of a wave at the moment and in this film he has the gravitas, an oddity and intelligence to portray Turing. Adapted from the biography by Andrew Hodges (a mathematician who has spent his life researching Turing’s story) and directed by Headhunters‘ Morten Tyldum, the film focuses on the years during World War Two when Turing and a team of academics were working at Bletchley Park, the top secret centre for code-breaking and intelligence. With the blessing of Winston Churchill, some of the greatest minds in the country were tasked with breaking the ‘Enigma’. The ‘Enigma’ being a machine which translated German naval and High Command messages into coded scripts which were impossible to decipher. To crack the code would save millions of lives on the front line, divert doomed merchant convoys and to ear-wig on military strategies direct from Hitler himself.
The crackpot team in the famed ‘Hut 8’ includes Stoker and Brideshead Revisited‘s Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley, Allan Leech (Downton Abbey). All are watched over by the ever-brilliant Charles Dance and Mark Strong. It’s an impressive cast, each with their chance to shine. Knightley in particular does well, playing a character who unearths Turing’s human side as well as demonstrating the gender barriers which did prevail during wartime- despite its perceived emancipation of women. Though sketchily drawn, it is through her eyes we see Turing’s eventual breakdown and through her support, is able to invent a ‘thinking’ machine, capable of unlocking the ciphers of the Enigma machine. In short, the world’s first computer.
Cumberbatch is astounding. As is Alex Lawther, who plays a young Turing during his school-days. Bullied and teased in the harsh public school environment, Turing develops his first emotional attachment to another pupil, Christopher. We see him flourish; happy and in love just as fatal circumstances transform him once again. Flash-forward into Turing’s later life, he is forced to punish his own nature and spend his life with his new and only companion: his wondrous machine.
I suppose I was predisposed to love this film, but I so easily could have been disappointed, left with a movie manipulated and altered for Hollywood. Instead it’s an intimate film about one of the most important stories of the last century and a tale of a determined scientist we keep on discovering long after his harrowing death.
Please watch The Imitation Game, we owe him.