Returning to Australian Palace Cinemas for its second consecutive year, the star-studded Emirates British Film Festival boasted an array of the finest modern movies and genre classics from the mother country. From the Swinging Sixties, to the Great War, and then to the Scottish countryside, there was a film to suit everybody during the three-week extravaganza. None, however, was more highly anticipated than The Imitation Game.
Leading man Benedict Cumberbatch has been on fire of late. Since smashing the small screen as the BBC’s titular Sherlock back in 2010, the 38-year-old British star has fast become Hollywood hot property. On the back of playing infamous Star Trek villain Khan in the recent J.J. Abrams sequel reboot Star Trek: Into Darkness, and portraying controversial Wikileaks chief Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate, Cumberbatch is back to his quintessential British roots in The Imitation Game.
He plays Alan Turing, a young and complicated mathematician and computer scientist who is enlisted by Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, during World War II. Working alongside scholars, mathematicians, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, Turing spearheads the UK’s attempts to crack the Nazi Germany’s Enigma code – a highly intelligent naval correspondence deemed “impossible” to intercept. If it was though, it could put an end to the war.
This wartime epic is an English-language first for Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Buddy, Headhunters), and is heavily based on the Andrew Hodges-penned biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. With a great period drama aesthetic and a witty screenplay by Graham Moore, the film is a slick historical thriller.
It spans the key moments in Turing’s tumultuous young life, from his unhappy and sexually frustrated teenage years at boarding school to the triumph of his secretive but successful wartime work. The films ends on a sober note, however, with Turing’s tragic suicide at the age of 41, following post-war prosecution and demonisation because of his homosexuality.
Most of the movie takes place within Bletchley Park, where Turing had to fight the clock (and his colleagues) to make his revolutionary electro-mechanical bombe, an early computer-prototype that he claimed could break the German’s indestructible code.
Cumberbatch handles Turing’s intellectual idiosyncrasies with sensitivity and confidence. His dialogue is Sherlockian in nature – scientific and precise – with much of his arrogance registering somewhere on the Autism/Aspergers spectrum. And no British period drama is complete without big screen darling Keira Knightley. Here, she plays cut-glass English accented touch typist Joan Clarke, personally recruited by Turing to join his elite enigma cracking team at Bletchley Park HQ.
Clarke and Turing are a formidable team, but his sexual orientation means the friendship can only ever be just that. It’s refreshing to see a male/female relationship that remains that way and isn’t rife with sexual tension. Turing loves Clarke wholeheartedly, but not in a romantic way, and the pair are so alike and volatile it is probably a blessing that they never did get romantically involved. Cumberbatch and Knightley have a charmingly stubborn onscreen presence, reveling in a natural chemistry that transcends the screen.
The supporting cast of code-crackers are equally impressive. Cumberbatch and Knightley are bookended by a suave Matthew Goode (A Single Man, Stoker) as cryptanalist Hugh Alexander, and Irishman Allen Leech (Downton Abbey, The Sweeney) plays beefed-up hacker John Cairncross. A steely Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) is surprisingly satirical as exhausted and distrusting Commander Alastair Denniston, and Mark Strong (The Young Victoria) is solid as Turing sympathiser Major General Stewart Menzies.
On the surface, The Imitation Game looks like another John le Carré adaptation, a highly complex spy drama a la Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (in which both Cumberbatch and Strong starred). However, Tyldum has created a world as funny as it is tragic, as naive as it is intellectual, and as realistic as it is just a little bit glamourised.
The film is a colour palette of dreary London grey, burgundy, gold and kitbag brown. The language, though of a sophisticated bygone era, is easy to follow, and the 114-minute plot is never dull. The Imitation Game is a stylish wartime drama with stellar central performances and an eye-opening premise. Look out for it next year at the Oscars – it’s just that good!
The Imitation Game opens general release on January 1st, 2015.