Milo Nesbitt reviews Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbath and Keira Knightley: ‘it’s hard to feel that a great and inspiring figure like Turing doesn’t deserve better’.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s first English-language feature concerns the work of computer scientist Alan Turing as he broke the German ‘Enigma’ code during the Second World War, and his later arrest and prosecution for “gross indecency” following his admittance of his homosexuality.
Benedict Cumberbatch is as good as we have come to expect of him: affectingly brilliant as Turing, his convincing and – at times – deeply tragic performance provides the film’s highlight. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode’s supporting characters as Turing’s fellow code-breakers (and in Knightley’s case, somewhat confusing love interest) are also entertaining.
The film generally deals with the lack direct, traditional action well, being more concerned with ideas and possibilities, and manages to remain engaging for its 114-minute runtime. Considering that the audience already knows the eventual outcome, the suspense of the situation is translated quite well onto the screen, with a few sympathy-inducing touches thrown in for good measure; however, the attempt to add a new layer to the film with the sub-plot revolving around the Soviet spy was clumsily done and probably needless.
However, as good as Cumberbatch is, he can’t quite mask the deficiencies of a disappointing script. One of the oldest clichés in the book (‘if you fire him, you’ll have to fire us’ etc) makes a tedious and stilted appearance, whilst what is clearly meant to be the film’s most powerful line (‘sometimes it is the people who no-one imagines anything of who do the things no-one can imagine’) has its impact neutered by the fact that it is spoken by no less than three characters at different points.
Meanwhile, the film’s depiction of Turing is flawed. The apparent portrayal of Turing’s alleged Asperger’s Syndrome feels like it’s meant to be at least faintly comical, but the inappropriateness of this alienates the audience from any humorous intent. Furthermore, I felt that surprisingly little of the film was devoted to covering Turing’s homosexuality and his relationships with men; whilst it’s important not to reduce him to his sexuality, the neglect of what should have been an important aspect of the film undermined the its credibility and meant it became too one-dimensional.
Ultimately, this isn’t a terrible film by any means, but it’s hard not to feel that Turing – as a great and inspiring figure whose importance in British history and science cannot be understated – deserves better.
About the author…
Milo Nesbitt is 16, lives in North London and counts the Coen brothers, Quention Tarantino, John Steinbeck and Donna Tartt amongst his favourite artists. He also enjoys reading, running and playing the piano.