The Imitation Game (12A)
by Morton Tyldrum
From 14th November 2014
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
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
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.