Historical thrillers are an almost guaranteed must-see when they centre on a situation that wouldn’t be believable if not already documented in truth. They become acclaimed when they star someone with the ability to take on such a role the way Benedict Cumberbatch has become Alan Turing, British mathematician and cryptanalyst.
The film is set in different periods of Turing’s life. First, we’re introduced to him post-war as a man under suspicion by the police following a break-in at his home. Occasionally there are glimpses into his childhood and the relationship he has with his only friend Chris. Mostly, it’s set in the early part of the war, when Turing volunteers his abilities and intelligence to the British army. As he says, they need him more than he needs them.
Turing’s task, and the task of all those working on this team, is to crack the Nazi Enigma code. An impenetrable code that changes every 24 hours and has millions upon millions of possibilities. Turing makes it his personal mission – one he relishes – to crack the code. And he’s not a team player.
While the story here is to show how Turing contributes to helping win the war, the essence of the film is the human element. How does he succeed in winning people over to his side? This underbelly is where the suspense lies as Turing isn’t particularly an easy person to work with.
He does build relationships with his team, particularly the only woman involved, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), with whom he becomes engaged, but he also places particular importance on the machine he’s built, which he has also named. He becomes emotionally attached to it as is evident by one emotionally gripping scene where Cdr. Denniston (Charles Dance) attempts to have it shut down.
There are disputes that the character Cumberbatch portrays is not an accurate depiction of During’s personality. Cumberbatch’s character has elements of Asperger’s Syndrome and for every advancement he makes to machine, he falls backward with human. Turing, incidentally, was apparently very social and had a great sense of humour.
Why The Imitation Game chose to present Turing in such a light is beyond me as there were other qualities about him that could have been heightened more than they were to add further depth to his character, such as his homosexuality or subsequent hormonal therapy, but the performance by Cumberbatch is ace. Just like his Julian Assange and Sherlock Holmes, he’s mastered another eccentric role.