#LFF14 Review: The Imitation Game
A version of Alan Turing’s story finally receives the big screen attention it deserves – but it’s hard not to see The Imitation Game as Enigma reloaded.
I have a soft spot for Enigma, the 2001 thriller starring Dougray Scott as codebreaker Tom Jericho who, assisted by his ex-girlfriend’s roommate (Kate Winslet), cracks the Enigma code and uncovers a spy within the grounds of Bletchley Park. As a historical record, it’s definitely patchy – as a thriller, however, it works well considering the fact that the audience knows from the outset that the Enigma code will ultimately be broken.
The Imitation Game focuses, quite rightly, on the significant contribution of Alan Turing to the code-breaking cause. Benedict Cumberbatch, in probably his biggest leading role to date, plays Turing as a less self-confident version of his most famous role, Sherlock Holmes – it’s hard not to see some similarities between his portrayal of the cold, arrogant, genius sleuth, and the socially-awkward, genius mathematician. Keira Knightley is a crack crossword solver he recruits to his team of cryptanalysts, one of whom may or may not be up to no good.
Whilst never boring, The Imitation Game suffers in a way that Enigma avoided – it falls between two stools, between wanting to give Turing the focus his achievements deserve, and wishing to serve up a tense, nail-biting thriller. Enigma did not trouble itself with the former, and avoided the obvious problems with the latter – we all know the outcome – by interweaving the code-breaking with conspiracies and spy plots.
The performances are all good, even if Cumberbatch, Knightley and Charles Dance seem to be partially channelling characters they’ve played elsewhere (Sherlock, Cecilia Tallis & Tywin Lannister respectively). They’re all trumped, however, by Alex Lawther as the young Alan Turing in flashbacks to his childhood. These scenes, which go some of the way to illuminating the shaping of Turing’s character, are the most interesting and engaging in the whole film – and proof that a proper biopic of Turing, rather than a serviceable thriller, might have been a better monument to this incredible man.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the way in which The Imitation Game only truly focuses on the injustices faced by Turing in the final few scenes – a human tragedy, and a shame that should be felt by a nation, compressed into a few minutes of screen time. Take those away, and the excellent flashback scenes, and we’d be back where we started: Enigma-lite.