The Imitation Game

Alan Turing led the cryptanalysis group at Bletchley Park during World War Two. By some estimates, the efforts there shortened the war by two to four years. Among the byproducts of Turing’s efforts were the electromechanical machines used to break the German’s Enigma codes. These and the principles behind them were one of the forerunners of the computer. In other words, Alan Turing is one of the architects of the modern world.
He died in relative obscurity since his role in the war was an official secret and nobody knew about it until fifty years after the war. His post war work was brilliant and brought him fame as a computer pioneer, but was hardly as glamourous. Also he was convicted of committing homosexual acts in 1952 and received shots of estrogen, a process otherwise known as chemical castration. He was disgraced and died a few years later under circumstances that may have been suicide or an accident.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing as an eccentric genius with little regard for those around him. He’s narcissistic to the point that he has no sympathy for almost anyone else. The military, although suspicious of him, puts up with his quirks because Churchill thinks he’s important. It has to be pointed out to Turing by Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightly, a woman codebreaker who is almost as smart as he is that he can get more done if he reaches out to the other members of the team on a personal level so they will be willing to help him. That would not have occurred to him otherwise.
This role is not a stretch for Cumberbatch. As portrayed here, Alan Turing doesn’t fall very far from Sherlock Holmes. But it is very fun to watch and there are subtle differences. Holmes is not as vulnerable as Turing for instance. Cumberbatch captures these nuances expertly.
Keira Knightly isn’t really given much to do but she is sympathetic as the only person Turing can relate to. Matthew Goode plays Hugh Alexander, the man Turing supplanted as the team leader. He believably changes from resentful disbeliever to having a great deal of respect for Turing in the end. Charles Dance plays Commander Denniston, a man who follows his orders but never stops looking for a way to get Turing out of Bletchley.
The script by Graham Moore, based on Andrew Hodges’ biography of Turing, is excellent. It lightly skips among three stories from three periods in Turing’s life. With ease it draws the thematic lines between past present and future, tying things together.
The Imitation Game is one of the best movies of the year so far.


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