Opening this year’s BFI London Film Festival is the much anticipated biographic to the great Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Keira Knightley.
Though his impact of his work is world renowned (reading this on a computer?) the life of the man himself is perhaps lesser know. Alan Turing was the British cryptanalyst and mathematician whose genius helped crack the German Enigma code in WWII and consequently is said to have saved over 14 million lives. But Turing’s story is also remembered for his eventual arrest for gross indecency as a homosexual, a ‘crime’ for which he received a royal pardon for in 2013. It is a gripping and unbelievable story, brought to stunning life by Graham Moore’s screenplay and director Morten Tyldum.
Holed in a small room at Bletchley Park, a group of Britain’s greatest puzzling minds including chess champions, linguists and academics, must race against the clock to decipher the impenetrable code working through the 159 million million possible settings that would allow them to intercept German intelligence. And all before 12am when the Germans change the settings – and then you start all over again. As the men slave over paper and charts and endless futility, the outcast Turing sets about designing his machine. Recruiting extra help through a crossword puzzle in the newspaper for fresh minds, Turing (Cumberbatch) finds Joan Clarke (Knightley) welcoming her to the team. Their relationship develops, a charming respite from the day’s frustrations with pub trips and picnics and late night codebreaking. While his male colleagues find his eccentricities infuriating, Clarke understands his quirk and matches it with her own sharpness and intelligence – a quirk in itself as a woman, obviously. Knightley exudes a rarely seen charm for her as Clarke, though it is undoubtedly Cumberbatch that is here at his most brilliant, inhabiting every moment with passion, intelligence and conviction.
With his rag-tag bunch, Turing completes his machine, solving Enigma and opening the way to ‘Ultra’, a military intelligence program that would allow Britain to intercept and plan military action without the Germans – and in fact anyone – knowing how. Ultra remained a government secret for over 50 years. His time at Bletchley is framed by flashbacks to Turing’s troubling school days and flashforwards to the Manchester police who would later take out the warrant for his arrest for indecency.
Filmed on location in Oxford, Kings Cross, Buckinghamshire and Dorset, including the former home of Ian Fleming, Sherborne School, where Turing was educated and of course, the infamous Bletchley Park, the film becomes an act of patriotism honouring the great British minds that played such an integral part in Britain’s war efforts.
An inspiring reflection and act of remembrance for a truly inspiring man, The Imitation Game is a worthy ode to Turing and the impact he continues to have on computing and the ‘people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine’.
Could we be looking at Oscar nods? You might not need to crack an Enigma code to figure that one out…
The Imitation Game is screening on Thursday 9 October (Odeon West End) and Friday 10 October (Hackney Picturehouse).
View the full festival programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff
Watch the trailer: