If you were hooked on The Bletchley Circle TV series, then The Imitation Game will complete the picture of what really happened at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. The life of Alan Turing is portrayed brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Amazing Grace amongst other notable roles). His life is blended together with the main focus of his work with others at the highly secretive Bletchley site as they attempt to break the German Enigma Code.
Turing, it seems is somewhat an enigma himself, and the script jumps among three plots, the code cracking suspense of the mathematician and his colleagues, a student struggling with being different and the post-war homosexual pursued by a dogged detective.
In a film dominated by male only casting, Joan Clarke’s character (Keira Knightley) seems to complement the hard hitting approach taken by Turing’s colleagues and indeed his boss, Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and the MI6 chief “C”, Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong). The others in the team, particularly Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), an equally brilliant mind who was also a British Chess Champion, initially find it difficult to get on with Turing.
Clarke’s parents want her home, fearing for her future, not the least the possibility she may never marry. Turing needs her, so much so that against his personal sexuality, his proposes. A hastily designed engagement ring fashioned from wire marks his “intentions”. Eventually he brings himself to declare his homosexuality. And it is that sexuality that is used by one his colleagues, a planted double agent for the Soviets, that no doubt deferred his eventual arrest, conviction, method of “sentence” and a brilliant mind lost at an early age. And in the like of the script from Mission Impossible, a verse from Matthew holds the key to his “secret” remaining unreported.
Several times Turing’s work is almost ruined, having gone over the heads of his superiors to none less than Winston Churchill, the frustration that his “machine”, which his calls “Christopher”, will not deliver. In his quirky way Turing asks for more time. The breakthrough finally comes and the code is broken. However, between themselves the group decides that there is little point in declaring to the enemy that it has been “defeated” by alerting ships and convoys in danger they are under threat. This decision seems harsh when one of the group pleads, confirming his brother is serving on one of those very ships.
The last flashback to Turing’s college days has him in the headmaster’s office and the reason for his friend Christopher’s absence after the term break is revealed.
The Imitation Game is well scripted and directed, with brilliant casting that result in standout performances, particularly from Cumberbatch, at times channeling some Baker Street traits! As with most bio-pics, the use of historical footage (black and white) provides the context to the impact the war was having on Britain and the Allies at that time.
This review was originally published in our sister publication, Insights.