A small group of British code-breakers, including Alan Turing, try to solve the problem of the Enigma machine during World War 2.
The Imitation Game is the story the pioneering work done by British code-breakers which shortened the Second World War and saved millions of lives. As such, it’s an inspiring tale, full of the moments you expect from a somewhat true story of success against impossible odds. But it’s also a film which shies away from a happy ending.
The reason for that will probably be clear for anyone who is aware of the history of Alan Turing – the man which the story chooses as its focus. And that makes a lot of sense – Turing himself was just as much of an enigma as the famed machine he was trying to break and, together with the secrecy of dealings at Bletchley Park, there’s more than enough intrigue to go around.
So with all of this heavy material, the biggest surprise about The Imitation Game is just how much fun it is. The script is witty and the performances heady, while director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) lends everything a glossy air that’s more about entertainment than education.
The whole affair has an unusual lightness to it, especially given the fact that most of the film takes place in stuffy rooms where stiff upper lips are baked into each characters DNA. This makes the more emotional moments (like that ending or the real weight of the decisions the team has to make) contrast brilliantly, making them even more effective.
As Turing, Cumberbatch reels off a performance which will undoubtedly grab a lot of attention. While it’s not the biggest stretch for the actor (there are definite strains of Sherlock here) it gives him a chance to go through his paces and might well gain some attention during the inevitable awards ceremonies next year.
The supporting players are just as good, especially the mix of poise, venom and sardonic humour which spills from the likes of Charles Dance (brilliant as ever) and a scene-stealing Mark Strong. There isn’t a weak actor in the bunch – including an excellent Kiera Knightly in a difficult role and good work from Matthew Goode, though I have to say I never quite figured out where Allen Leech was supposed to be from… (the real John Cairncross was Scottish but there’s definite Hibernian slippage here).
The Imitation Game is a strikingly well-made film with strong performances and the kind of fist pumping moments you expect. But while you’ll probably leave the cinema inspired by what we are capable of at our darkest hours, it’s also a towering testament to the folly of humanity and a heart-breaking apology, many decades too late.