So many bottoms on seats at a Saturday afternoon showing for what is, ostensibly, an ‘art house’ movie can mainly be put down to one thing – the Cumberbatch Effect. Seriously, this man could go on film and read his shopping lists and an eager audience would surely turn up to watch him do it. So what a good thing that The Imitation Game is a unqualified delight, a truly absorbing and compelling tale, expertly told, that, despite a running time of 114 minutes, doesn’t flag for a moment. And in the lead role of mathematician and all-round genius, Alan Turing, Cumberbatch is (it has to be said) quite extraordinary.
Of course it’s not the first time that this story has been attempted in the cinema. Some may remember Enigma (2001), where Dougray Scott was charged with playing a fictional version of Turing called Tom Jericho and where all the awkward stuff was summarily skipped. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a box office failure. This version of the story, however, stays closer to the facts and is all the better for it.
The film opens in 1951, where Manchester-based detective, Inspector Nock (Rory Kinnear) investigates a mysterious break in at Turing’s apartment and guesses that the man is hiding secrets, but he can have little idea of the web of intrigue that is going to be revealed as a result of his investigation. History of course has (eventually) recorded that Turing is the man who turned the tide of World War Two, by deciphering the German’s Enigma Code. In so doing, he shortened the course of the war by two years, saved millions of lives and (almost as a side-effect) pioneered the use of computers. But it’s also a tragic story. He was treated abominably for being a homosexual at a time when such a thing was illegal and suffered the almost unimaginable consequences.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum ( Headhunters) handles the proceedings with great skill and he’s aided and abetted by a superb screenplay by Graham Moore, one that skips effortlessly back and forth in time without ever confusing the audience and manages to make the most complex material easily understandable. An ensemble cast delivers a host of note-perfect performances. Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke, Turing’s doomed would-be fiancé, is a particular delight and both Charles Dance and Mark Strong excel in their roles as, respectively, a crusty Commander and a secret service operative. Special mention should also be made for Alex Lawther, who plays Turing as a boy, a matching of two actors that, for once, absolutely convinces. But, even amidst such riches, this is undoubtedly Cumberbatch’s movie and he manages to nail Turing’s (clearly autistic) character absolutely, by turns funny, awkward and inspirational. The film’s conclusion is just heartbreaking and only the stoniest character will manage to resist tears.
The Imitation Game is filmmaking of the highest order and I cannot recommend it highly enough.