“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”
As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.
But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan.
The film flits between three time periods, each informing each other as the story progresses – Turing’s boarding school days which were dominated by an intense crush on a dreamy schoolmate, his war experience at Bletchley Park and then the later years with Mancunian rent boys. Alex Lawther (so good in South Downs) is excellent as the young Alan, scarcely believing the emotional connection that briefly blazes across his life and it is easy to see the impact that had on the rest of Turing’s life, that intensity replicated in the way he feels about the machine he builds, the inarticulacy that strikes him when dealing with his new colleague Hugh – not coincidentally exactly his type in the tall, dark and broodingly handsome shape of Matthew Goode.
The Bletchley sequences are the film’s highlight. Whether winding up Charles Dance’s sceptical base commander, struggling with his colleagues (Matthew Beard and Allen Leech joining Goode) or finding an unexpected soulmate (of sorts) in Kiera Knightley’s perfectly pitched Joan, the sole woman on the codebreaking team who crackles with humour and heart as she finds a unique place in his affections but ultimately not a permanent one. Mark Strong’s shadowy MI6 man is another powerfully drawn presence in a classy piece of film-making which is mostly highly engaging and ought to see Cumberbatch score at least a cumbersnatch of nominations in the months to come