Film review: The Imitation Game

Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, a close friend of Alan Turing
Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, a close friend of Alan Turing
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IN MANY respects The Imitation Game was typical opening night fare for The London Film Festival, an event that seems to pride itself on its strategy of programming a relatively predictable greatest hits package of the year’s other main festivals.

The Imitation Game - Odeon Leicester Square, London

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The good news, however, is that while this biopic of Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing ticked all the expected boxes – a strong British connection, big glamorous stars, a thoughtful but accessible story – it was also entertainingly executed, managing to avoid the overt worthiness to which it could easily have succumbed.

Part of that is down to Benedict Cumberbatch’s skilled performance as Turing, the Cambridge-educated maths genius whose almost incalculable contribution to the both the war effort and modern computer science was tragically and shamefully overshadowed by his prosecution for gross indecency simply because he happened to be gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

Telling the story in three different time frames – the bulk of it focusing on Turing’s work at Bletchley Park – the film uses code-breaking as an obvious but effective metaphor both for the lies he was forced to tell and to illustrate his failure to comprehend the nuances of “normal” human interaction.

Given the latter has become a clichéd character trait in recent years – not least in Cumberbatch’s small screen portrayal of Sherlock Holmes – Turing is a tougher role to play than it might once have been, but Cumberbatch burrows beneath the surface to reveal someone with machine-like logic locked in a soulful struggle against an inhuman society.

Seen on 08.10.14

• On general release from 14 November