Posted on January 20, 2015 by charlescrook in Entertainment, Reviews

AN outsider would assume a British-made film about World War Two to be fairly par for the course.

There is lots of evocative British wartime imagery of going about daily basis in the midst of Nazi-bombed cities, joking in defiance of the desperate situation, cucumber sandwich picnics and evenings spent dancing with pints, all the while figuring out the way to break down the Nazi war machine.

While The Imitation Game does feature such standard imagery, the story being reached for by Norweigan director Morten Tyldum’s first English language feature attempts more intricacy than one that could’ve been about such a twee nature, and seems intent on juggling three timelines together in an elastic reality.

Its also seen as important film making in documenting the life and works of Alan Turing, who is widely regarded as the creator of the first modern computer. It also shows a dramatised and sometimes exaggerated documentation of his work in putting together the machine that cracked the German’s Enigma code, which is widely credited as shortening World War Two by at least two years.

The movie is bookended by scenes of Turing’s arrest and conviction for public indecency, which saw him convicted for homosexuality in 1952. In-between this and other scenes from it are scenes exploring his education at Sherborne Private School in Dorest in the late 1920s.

But the majority of the drama is set around his famous work at Bletchley Park, and indeed was partially filmed in and amongst the famous building.

One thing that it is easy to do is criticise the movie for historical inaccuracy, and it is true that a number of liberties are taken. Particularly criticised by his descendants was the use of Navy Commander Denniston as the closest the film has to a villain, although Charles Dance takes to the demanded role with some impressive chops. The film has also bewildered some who have record of Turing that depicted him as more anti-social and without knowledge of humour than he was in reality.

But questioning the historical accuracy of films and poking holes when comparing them with reality par for the course. The question instead is whether or not it keeps up the essence of Turing’s life and works, and whether or not it functions as a drama.

The simple answer is that it does, if a little in spite of its slightly distracting non-linear approach.

As an MK local, the scenes set at Bletchley Park are excellently shot, and there is certainly something titillating about the thought of Bletchley being the centre of this big heavyweight drama’s universe. It also uses an impressive re-imagining of the bombe machine developed by the codebreakers, even if taking a little license here by removing its Bakelite casing. But while there is plenty of excellent stuff to look at, it also has performances to match.

In particular, there is a strong central performance by Benedict Cumberbatch that keeps the whole thing from coming apart at the seams. While the character is a bit more “weak scientist” stereotype – indeed, its not a million miles away from Sheldon Cooper – it is still a very good performance that fully realises first time writer Graham Moore’s zippy script. It also keeps together the varying elements that make up his character arc and allows him to fully explore, giving us a very good acting performance.

Despite criticism from descendants as being “plain”, there’s also a compelling performance from Keira Knightley. She may give Joan Clarke a curious stereotypical upper class English accent, but she plays very nicely off the unusual characteristics of the male lead.

Some people have felt that the film overplays the two’s relationship to be coy over his homosexuality, although if it was coy, it would ignore the chemical castration he received. But in some respects, it attempts to show another two central relationships for Turing, in the form of his machine and his deceased childhood love that was lost in their school days.

The machine is certainly an impressive creation. It maybe noted that the machine itself takes licenses with the real creation and the replica currently in the Bletchley Park Museum, but it looks extremely impressive and is all excellently clattering and clacking pistons.

Its a curious mixture tonally alongside these central performances and interest in the machine. For a lot of the piece, it feels celebratory of how Turing defied the odds to create exceptional technology that helped his country stop a seemingly unstoppable enemy force, and also how the country eventually rewarded him with chemically castrating for defying now-outdated legislation – indeed, he has since received posthumous apologies and pardons from the Queen and former PM Gordon Brown.

This is perhaps something not helped by its jumping between the three timelines, giving the film an extensive non-linear narrative that attempts interconnection but at times struggles to match it up.

Nevertheless, like the cogs in the computer developed, everything is able to sync up nicely and ultimately provide a compelling film that does plenty to give us a grouping of stories that help understand the character and its certainly worth paying attention too, in spite of its chronological elasticity. Helping it achieve more than it possibly could have is an excellent central performance by an actor who is on a fast track to A-list status, and puts in a performance extremely demonstrative of a man who has done a lot to bring to life his complex character.

Whether or not it can make a splash at the Oscars despite getting an extremely impressive eight nominations is one for the upcoming Academy deliberations to make.

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