The Imitation Game


I liked the movie Pride but I thought it was carried by the great performances and the important events it depicted. The film was a little obvious and clichéd in places but it told a moving true story of people doing incredible things at a time when their homosexuality made them the victims of terrible prejudice.

I could say exactly the same about The Imitation Game.

I could but actually I won’t.

It does feel as though the film is presenting a very Hollywoodised version of World War II code breaker Alan Turing’s life, with events and characters being exaggerated, but this becomes less of a problem as the film progresses.

The problem early on is Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance. He plays Turing like a ratcheted up version of Sherlock. The familiar quirkiness, arrogance and failure to observe social niceties are all there, ramped up to eleven, but with none of the brooding confidence.

To be fair, this may well be an accurate portrayal, Christian Bale’s twitches and wild gesticulations in The Fighter seemed over the top until you saw the real Dicky Ekland in the closing credits, but it does come across as highly affected. After half an hour or so though it all settles down. In fact there is a line in the script that seems to address this very issue. Matthew Goode’s Hugh Alexander, unimpressed by Turing’s behaviour and his contribution to the work of the team in Bletchley Park, says something along the lines of: ‘Alan, to pull of this irascible genius routine one actually has be be a genius.’ and, possibly quite deliberately, the pomposity of the character and the film are punctured.

There are still small historical accuracies. The team of code breakers we see working together didn’t in reality all work together, for example. (This might make me seem like a pedantic history nerd but those people with those contrasting personal motivations all being in Hut 8 at the same time feels dramatically convenient when you watch the movie.) There are also characters who I’m sure didn’t really conduct themselves in the manner presented, like Charles Dance as commanding officer Denniston who rails against Turing’s unconventional way of getting the job done like the angry police chief in an 80s cop movie. Once Cumberbatch’s performance calms down though none of this really matters.

Ultimately what we get is an incredibly inspiring and moving true enough story of one man’s immense contribution to the war and technological advancement and what happened to him afterwards. I have to say that I understand the theoretical physics in Interstellar more than I can get my head round how Alan Turing’s computation machine worked but this only serves to impress me more. The man was clearly an immense genius who saved innumerable lives.

Even though I have been critical of the way Cumberbatch and his director portray Turing, it is a great performance. It may jar at the start but once the quirks are tempered by circumstance and human connections it drew me in to the film as much as it initially drew me out. The scenes that show how Turing was the tragic victim of institutional homophobia after the war are heartbreaking.

The most significant of the people who ground Cumberbatch’s Turing is Keira Knightly’s Joan Clarke. From the little bit of web research I’ve done it seems that the way the film shows their relationship is pretty accurate. The two of them were close and her attitudes toward his sexuality were progressive for the time. Clarke was also genuinely one of very very few woman working on code breaking during the war.

As much as Clarke’s was a feminist story so then is Knightley’s portrayal a positive one in terms of gender politics. The screenplay plays up to this at first but eventually she is just one of the team. The film has been criticised for playing up Turing and Clarke’s relationship as a romantic one hence suggesting he was in some way less gay but I don’t think this is fair. What they have is clearly a close friendship, not a romantic connection and I thought it was well played. It is his sexuality that defines the relationship not the other way round.

The title of the film comes from a test (and subsequent research paper) devised by Turing in the late 40s/early 50s that assesses a computer’s ability to ‘think’ like a human. Clearly it works on several levels here with Turing himself struggling to measure up against societies ideas of what is acceptable human behaviour. In fact the erratic behaviour of the protagonist at the start only serves to reinforce this point.

I could then accuse The Imitation Game of Hollywood clićhe but I won’t. To do so would, under the circumstances, might seem ungracious. The Imitation Game is a very good film telling a great story that everyone should hear. A story that was of course totally unknown until the war time documents were declassified in 1996.

The Ripley Factor:

As discussed this is a win. The female characters do not exist purely to define or motivate men, they are believable as real people, they are not objectified (although some of Joan Clarke’s family have strangely complained that Knightly is not plain enough) and the inclusion of the women in the film does not feel like tokenism.

Her being surrounded by men is a classic example of the Smurfette Principle by modern filmic standards but she is no token female, she is there because she is the best person for the job. Besides, this is clearly how things were in the 1940s and in that sense Joan Clarke is a bit of a pioneer, doing what she could in war purely because she could. What’s that, is that the Joan or Arc Principle? Of course she was still paid less than her male colleagues.

Is this one for the kids?

The film is rated 12A for mild sex references but they are mild. For me it is more the tone of the film of the film than any specific content that merits the classification. There are scenes of Turing being bullied as a child but is almost the attitudes he comes up against that are upsetting as much as the violence.

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