Twitter Plot Summary: The story of Alan Turing, the man who broke the Enigma code in WW2, and a brief cinematic overview of his life pre and post-war.
For the sake of argument, we’ll ignore the existence of U571 and place emphasis on the real story behind the cracking of the Enigma Code. For those not in the know, the majority of coded messages sent by Germany during World War 2 were encoded using Engima, a device that made it practically impossible for the Allies to decode fleet and troop movements. It was therefore imperative that the Allies found a way of cracking the code in order to save the war effort and, hopefully, defeat the Nazis.
It is in this context that we see Alan Turing, played with gusto by man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch, joining the British secret service at Bletchley Park and helping the war effort by putting his prodigal mind to work. Time is of the essence, but it doesn’t help that Turing is an incredibly difficult person to get along with in the film, supremely confident in his own mental prowess in one respect yet seemingly aloof and impersonal in another.
The Imitation Game proves to be a film elevated by the central performance of Benedict Cumberbatch. Had a lesser actor been in the role, it would have been a far inferior production. There’s no one specific element that stands out as being weak, however other than Cumberbatch and the supporting performances it would otherwise be a narrative ideal for a direct to TV production. With that said, it still proves to be a hugely effective film.
That narrative leaps across much of Turing’s life, covering in a non-linear fashion his school days and realisation of his sexuality, his recruitment into the Bletchley Park group during the war, and the post-war police investigation into his past and his private life, which is given added clout by Rory Kinnear as the investigating officer.
The sequences set in Bletchley Park are tense, if not for the fact the code breakers are in a daily race against time to crack the code before it resets at midnight (thus rendering their work that day useless), but also due to the constant barriers set in place by Turing’s superiors who understandably just want results. Just to throw in some further intrigue is the possible presence of a Soviet spy in the Bletchley crew – that’s a lot going on, yet the way it is structured works very well.
In supporting roles are the ever reliable Charles Dance and Mark Strong as Turing’s superior and a shady lead in MI6 respectively. Meanwhile the female element is provided by Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, initially playing her as a plummy 1940s female stereotype but eventually progressing into a reasonably strong presence. She’s not given much to do other than act as a female foil for Turing, but despite that it would be a much weaker film without her.
There are certain aspects of the story that are not given as much scope as they perhaps needed, but it makes the brave decision to cover Turing’s post-war troubles and the chemical sterilisation he was forced to undergo as a result of his sexual orientation. It’s a tragedy that such a great mind was cut short due to the shortsightedness of the government and culture at that point in history, but it acts as a stark reminder of this country’s recent history and attitudes. Other areas such as Turing’s homosexual relationships aren’t given anything more than a passing mention, and by contrast his relationship with Joan may have been overplayed, which is a slight issue, but it’s not a film that really needed this aspect of his life portrayed in detail. Suffice to say, it works as it is, with the caveat that we can’t always have it all.