THE INCREDIBLE story of Alan Turing is almost impossible to believe. This man invented the computer and, with a small team, ended WWII two years earlier than was thought possible, and in doing so saved the lives of 14,000,000 people.
Yet it was only last Christmas he was granted a posthumous pardon by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Why would such a war hero need to be pardoned? In the aftermath of the war he was found guilty of being a homosexual and as punishment was chemically castrated. He then took his own life. This was 1954 when this form of punishment for being gay continued until the 1960s.
The general public only really heard his name five years ago when Gordon Brown wrote an op-ed piece for The Daily Telegraph about the horrendous treatment of Turing. He was subsequently championed by Stephen Fry on Twitter and TV and a massive petition was put before Downing Street which led to his pardon.
Now comes a film about Turing's life - The Imitation Game, probably the finest film of 2014, directed by Norwegian Morten Tyidum. It is probably best the director is not British or American as it is completely void of misplaced patriotism. We see the real Turing here, not just an unlikely hero, but an unlikable hero. Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the best actors working today, plays Turing with a cold steeliness and is sure to win at least an Oscar nomination in January.
The Imitation Game portrays Turing through three key periods of his life. The first is during his schooldays. He is, as his mother calls, him “an odd duck”, and is bullied and miserable in school. He does however develop a friendship with a boy that evolves into something more. During this period he is played by an incredibly talented young actor, Alex Lawther, who has Cumberbatch’s facial movements and accent to a tee, yet without ever decending into an impression or imitation of Cumberbatch, Indeed Lawther's performance may be the best in the film. His heartbreaking and delicate acting allows us to give great sympathy to Turing in his later life when he might not deserve it.
The second period of his life, where we spend most of the time, is while the breaking of the German’s Enigma encryption machine in Betchley Park. He is clearly a brilliant mathematician but incredibly rude and anti-social. He struggles to fit in to the team he leads until he meets Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley ) who impresses on him the benefits of being a team player and being liked by his peers.
Here the movie takes on a lighter note. This part of Turing’s life is embellished slightly for the film (particularly his relationship with Clarke ) but it works. The ensemble cast of Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley, and Charles Dance are all fantastic. Particularly Mark Strong’s menacing MI6 agent who is able to manipulate Turing. Although he has respect for Turing’s genius he has no regard for the well being of a clearly troubled individual.
The third period in Turing’s life is 10 years after the war. His past experiences of “blood soaked calculus” have left him deeply unhappy and facing the investigation which will lead him to suicide. The police officer in charge of his case is played by the criminally underrated and always fantastic Rory Kinnear. He interviews Turing about his life and his works during the war under suspicion of being a Russian spy, of whom there were many in Bletchley Park. This interview provides the voice over throughout the film.
The Imitation Game is an unbelievably tragic story that will genuinely make you angry but it is not a dour nor depressing film. It is a celebration of one the 20th century’s greatest minds.