The Imitation Game (12A)

Directed by Morton Tyldrum
Picturehouse, Liverpool
From 14th November 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Unsung Hero To Zero

1950's Manchester. A professor is visited by the police after his home is broken into, but the academic is reluctant to go along with their enquiries. That's how director Morton Tyldrum's film starts, before it flashes back in time a decade or more. The Imitation Game is about the deepest classified secret of World War II, the cracking of the German Enigma Code by a hand picked team of cryptographers at Bletchley Park's top secret establishment in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

As U-Boats wreak havoc with allied naval supply routes, via daily changing scrambled messages (59 million combinations)', Turing's team is tasked with cracking the attack instructions and thus stemming the rising death toll.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill sanctions the project to the tune of £100,000 to Commander Deniston's (Charles Dance) dismay, which Turing uses to build an electro-mechanical precursor of the modern computer. His mantra? To outwit Enigma build a machine that thinks like a machine, not a human being, which also does not go down well with his associates.

Alan Turing is played in his adult life brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch as a no nonsense loner mathematician brought up on code breaking from his childhood days at Sherborne School. There, a crush on an older boy sets in train a repressed homosexual disposition, which will ultimately be his undoing.

Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, who breaks into the dark world of MI6, headed by Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), through her crossword solving entrance exam skills, and also crashes the sexist glass ceiling permeating the macho world of espionage. Turing even gets engaged to her to keep her on side as the tensions in the team rise. Interspersed into life at the rural idyll is real grainy black and white war footage, emphasising the need for a breakthrough.

Technical genius, as his machine grows, and a lucky chance remark enables Turing to achieve the breakthrough, although an imminent tragedy cannot be averted, because to publicise the location would let the Germans know that their system had been compromised.

Through judicious use of the information obtained it is estimated that the war was shortened by two years and 14 million lives were saved. It's goodbye time as the team destroys everything and split up under Official Secret Act edict, never to see each other again.

Forward again to Manchester, and as the country endeavours to get back on it's feet, the over zealous police enquiry, even suspecting Turing of being a spy, only ends up landing him on the front page of the newspapers on a charge of sexual indecency.

In those unenlightened times the sentence is two years in jail or an alternative; effective chemical castration. Turing chooses the latter so he can continue to work on his brainchild, but within a year he is dead through suicide at the age of 41, courtesy of a cyanide laced apple.

Tyldum's film adequately captures the different aspects of Britain at war. Lots of jolly telephonists and female cipher clerks dancing and relaxing in the NAFFI bar, stiff upper lip 'life must go on' shots of bombed out homes or huddling together in Underground stations; the desperate futility and waste of it all.

The huge cast is good, as is the acting of the leads even if a bit over sentimentalised, and the cotumes capture the times well enough. In the midst of it all is the real star 'Christopher', Turing's nickname for his invention.

The soundtrack from Alexander Desplat is evocative of the images on the screen; tinkling along like a safe cracker listening for the tumblers to drop, and echoing Turing's frustrated daily nightmare, of failing to stop the serried ranks of dials clicking, before midnight.

Based on a true story there is more than enough of Turing's legacy around us in the world today, where everyone's secrets and privacy are indeed a thing of the past.

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