Freeview film of the day: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch solves the enigma of Alan Turing

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The Imitation Game ★★★★
9.00-11.15pm Film4 

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Alan Turing was one of the greatest civilian heroes of the Second World War. He deserved a knighthood at the very least but instead was offered the choice between prison and chemical castration (he chose the latter) and was eventually driven to suicide. Simply because he was a homosexual.

The above paragraph will no doubt be regarded as a “spoiler” but these things are as widely known as the fact that Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was the British cryptographer who cracked the Enigma code and shortened the war by two years. Besides, prior knowledge of how things turned out in no way spoils enjoyment of an excellent biopic that unfolds with the tension of a first-rate thriller.

Directed by Morten Tyldum from a screenplay by Graham Moore, the film switches between 1952 when Turing was arrested for “gross indecency” and interrogated by a detective (Rory Kinnear), his schooldays at Sherborne and his work on the Enigma code at Bletchley Park. As Turing, Cumberbatch gives his finest performance yet, creating a vivid portrait of a man known even to his mother as “an odd duck”, one clearly suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. He is devoid of social graces, small talk or humour, has little truck with people less clever than himself and is arrogant, a genius and gay.

At Bletchley he invents a proto-computer to solve the mysteries of Enigma, a process made harrowingly tense by the race against time to save even more Allied convoys from being destroyed by U-boats and by the opposition of many of his colleagues, who simply don’t understand him. The strongest opposition comes from Bletchley’s CO (Charles Dance) who dislikes him and even suspects him of being a Russian mole. Indeed, there is a Russian spy in the team and it’s Turing who confronts him.

Happily though, there are others who come to believe in this gifted oddball, among them Matthew Goode as Turing’s assistant and Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, the team’s only woman, who was his most loyal supporter and, for a short time, his fiancée. Theirs may well have been a “lavender” engagement to disguise his true sexuality but he did seem genuinely to love her, if only intellectually.

Clarke, incidentally, did vitally important work at Bletchley and was nearly as clever as Turing himself. But she sought no glory and was merely rewarded with a modest MBE. I think she deserves a film to herself. However. The action switches grippingly between 1952, the events at Bletchley and Turing’s unhappy and lonely schooldays when his only friendship was with another boy, Christopher (Jack Bannon), after whom he named his Enigma-cracking machine. In 2013, Turing was granted a royal pardon for having been convicted of being gay. And that’s all the official recognition he’s received. 


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