By Ray Bennett
TORONTO – Morten Tyldum’s engrossing drama “The Imitation Game”, about World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, gives Benedict Cumberbatch another complex character to explore and the result is a film that will please audiences and collect major awards.
The picture will screen at the London Film Festival on Oct. 8 and it will be released in the UK on Nov. 14 by StudioCanal. The Weinstein Co. will release it in the US on Nov. 21.
Screenwriter Graham Moore’s adaptation of the 2012 book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges tells how the mathematics wizard ended up as the leader of the Ultra team at Bletchley that aimed to break the secret Nazi code called Enigma, why their race against the clock mattered to the war, and what happened to the man after the conflict ended.
It is an enthralling story about an arrogantly confident individual who emerged from a bullied childhood to achieve a mastery of mathematical computation with a ferocious drive that made no friends and angered authority.
Cumberbatch captures the man’s complexities with the skill and depth now expected from an actor who specialises in such roles. Turing’s encounters with rigid Commander Denniston, played by Charles Dance, and the others on the Ultra team including suave chess champion Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), are abrasive and not promising. The stress is doubled with the revelation that there is a Soviet spy in their midst. Only when he adds to the group a brilliant young woman named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) does he find someone who can match his intellect and mesh with his prickly personality.
The film goes back and forth between the extraordinarily difficult struggle at Bletchley and the time in the 1950s when a break-in at his home causes the police to take interest in the fact that all reference to the top secret Ultra endeavour has been stricken from the records and so Turing’s past is a mystery.
The police do, however, have evidence of his homosexuality, which at the time was a crime punishable by imprisonment. Rory Kinnear does well as a bluff detective obliged to follow the letter of the law despite his increased sympathy for the now tortured codebreaker.
Norwegian filmmaker Tyldum, whose “Headhunters” (2011) was nominated as best foreign language film at the Bafta Film Awards, gets the pace just right as the tension mounts at Bletchley with scenes at home, at sea and on the battlefield that show how vital it is to break the code.
Maria Djurkovic’s production design appears authentic and Oscar Faura’s cinematography is both artful and accessible while composer Alexandra Desplat invokes echoes of music from the period with the required urgency at times and pleasing subtlety at others.
Along with the film itself, Cumberbatch is bound for awards contention and possibly Knightley too as she shows an increased warmth and maturity in what could have been a decorative role. Mark Strong is suitably sinister as an all-knowing MI6 man and the rest of the cast is solid.
The film casts Turing as the father of the modern computer and it makes a clear case for him as a hero of the war. It also underscores how wretchedly he was treated by authorities along with many other unfortunate men at the time.
It touches movingly on the dilemma that became clear the minute the Enigma code was broken … that to use it too often to save lives would alert the enemy and make things worse. That horrifying fact adds depth to a drama that is already bittersweet as it portrays both Turing’s enormous success and his miserable treatment.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival. Screens at the London Film Festival Oct. 8; Opens: UK: Nov. 14 (StudioCanal) / US: Nov. 28 (The Weinstein Company) / Canada: Dec. 19 (Elevation Pictures); Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Alex Lawther; Director: Morten Tyldum; Screenwriter: Graham Moore, based on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges; Director of photography: Oscar Faura; Production designer: Maria Djurkovic; Music: Alexandre Desplat; Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon Differ; Editor: William Goldenberg; Producers: Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwartzman; Production: Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive Productions; Not rated, running time 114 minutes.