18 November 2014

A pale imitiation of reality (Review: 'The Imitation Game')

Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch will no doubt be interested in his latest film, due to be released in the US on 28 November, but already out in the UK. The Imitation Game is a biopic of Alan Turing, the gay mathematical genius who developed the Turing Bombe and later the world's first electronic computer Colossus at Bletchley Park, helping to crack the German Enigma codes and shorten the war by two years... then ended up being prosecuted for homosexual activity. This resulted in his undergoing chemical castration and later suicide. That's not a spoiler by the way.

As a fan of him myself (although not in that kind of way), I went along to see the film last weekend and frankly, I wasn't impressed. General rule of thumb for me is that if I start looking at my watch, there is a problem with your work.

Cumberbatch does a very good job at playing the eccentric Turing; a man not known for playing nicely with others and of course an under-appreciated genius in his time (Enigma was kept secret until the early 1970s, not for fifty years like the final caption says). He gets a lot of funny lines in the peace. That is frankly the best part of the movie... and the rest isn't that great.

Let's start with the plot. It's your standard Hollywood-ised biopic, where Turing and his team of geniuses struggle against a sceptical authority figures (Charles Dance doing what Charles Dance always does) to find a way to crack the Enigma code in a timely manner. The narrative jumps from the war to the late 1920s to 1951 like an Enigma rotor; a frankly unnecessary device. It ignores the fact that ULTRA was a huge operation involving a few thousand people and omits one key figure entirely, Tommy Flowers, who actually built the (many) Bombes that Turing improved from the Polish bombas. It feels very trite at times... and it delays revealing the name of one key character until a key plot point; some of us who know our history would have liked to be able to spot that one coming.

Another problem is Keira Knightley, playing Joan Clarke, a close friend of Turing and an expert mathematician. Unfortunately, I just couldn't take her seriously. I was thinking to the effects "I've seen you half-naked in perfume ads and I'm supposed to think you're a maths genius?" Call me judgmental... but the real Joan Clarke was apparently quite plain.

Cumberbatch doesn't actually kiss any men in this movie (IIRC), making it a male version of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl"... an attempt to avoid controversy for the US market perhaps?


Save your money and buy a book covering the real story. Cumberbatch doesn't make this worthwhile.


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