London Film Festival Review: The Imitation Game

Turing and his machine.

Turing and his machine.


Title:                         The Imitation Game

Certificate:               tbc

Director:                   Morten Tyldum

Major Players:         Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong

Out Of Five:             3.5


I’m obviously more of a Twitter ingénue than I thought! When I tweeted my first reaction to The Imitation Game this morning, it took on a life of its own.  Even more surprisingly, most of the re-tweets came from fans sites dedicated to Benedict Cumberbatch.  I’m obviously missing out on something.  And what did I say?  I’ll come to that in a moment ………

This is the story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who was responsible for cracking the German’s Enigma Code during World War II. It’s told in a series of flashbacks, most of them set during the War but interwoven with scenes from his schooldays and his later life in the 50s.  Turing wasn’t just a mathematical genius and viewed by many today as the father of the modern computer, he was also gay at a time when it was not just illegal but so despised as to be used for blackmail.

One of the early scenes had me seriously worried. We’re back in the earlier days of World War II, when children were evacuated to the countryside, and it’s all done to the background of a young newspaper vendor yelling the latest war headlines.  So the whole set-up looked like it had been filmed during the 1940s as well.  Surely the film wasn’t going to be peppered with hackneyed clichés like that?  Thankfully, it isn’t.  It was clearly a momentary lapse from director Morten Tylden, although it paints a rather idyllic view of England – and it is very much England – with a picturesque traditional village, lush trees and aerial shots of steam trains.  Could that be why a certain Mr Weinstein has taken an interest?

Turing’s story is delivered in the style of a detective story, even though we know the outcome right from the start. Turing is hiding a secret of his own and daren’t risk revealing it.  And then there’s that code to crack.  Thankfully we’re spared the maths for that one, with the team showing their problem solving and mathematical talents by cracking heavyweight cryptic crosswords – a more accessible and credible device.

But the script does have a terrible habit of over-labouring its messages. Once Turing has told his story to Inspector Knock (Rory Kinnear) he asks the policeman for his opinion.  “I can’t judge you” is the response.  It’s so laden with significance it might as well be written in capital letters and double underlined.  And it’s not the only line like that.  “The most unlikely person will do the most unlikely things” keeps recurring.  No disrespect to screenwriter Graham Moore, but we got it the first time!

There’s a fine British cast on show. Apart from Kinnear, there’s Mark Strong, Keira Knightley and Charles Dance but the film belongs, hands down, to Cumberbatch.  The phrase I used in my tweets was “beautifully intricate” and I stand by it.  He brings an unexpected physical dimension to the role, with a slightly lop-sided walk and posture marking him out as a misfit who finds it difficult to communicate with other people.  There was much discussion at the film’s press conference about whether or not Turing was portrayed as being autistic.  Cumberbatch says not, but there’s more than a hint of the character being somewhere on the spectrum: not only is he generally detached from people, he tends to interpret what they say very literally.  Not that it would have been diagnosed in those days, let alone have any sort of name, so Turing was just seen as odd, cold and arrogant.

It is an immensely moving piece of acting, especially in the latter scenes when he’s on his “hormone therapy” and, as the final lines of his story appear on the screen, it’s impossible not just to be touched but to feel the dreaded lump in the throat. It cements Cumberbatch’s status as one of the leading British actors of his generation.  Whether it’s a performance that produces the already rumoured Oscar nomination remains to be seen but, as far as his movie performances are concerned, this is definitely his best.

The Imitation Game is far from being the only British film at this year’s London Film Festival, so I’ll reserve judgement as to which is the best. On this showing, the film is more likely to be a worthy runner up – but it has to be said that Cumberbatch is cracking!


The Imitation Game is screened at the London Film Festival on Thursday, 9 and Friday, 10 October. It’s released nationwide on Friday, 14 November.




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