The Imitation Game is theatrical and dramatic – it’s the kind of heart-wrenching cinema that we expect when we enter that dark and sheltered world, ready to dive into the dreams of yet another visionary filmmaker. There’s something to be said for a film that simultaneously condemns the incontrovertibly horrific methods of a bygone era, and celebrates that country’s achievements (or, one man’s achievements – indeed, The Imitation Game has been criticized that it makes the cracking of the German codes into something of a one-man show, despite the thousands of men and women involved). But this time we get a slice of life that’s a little too real, and it almost blasts us out of those comfy velvet seats. The morality of the human race is put under interrogation inside a case study of the Second World War. Somehow, at the time, we humans always think our moral compasses are swivelled in the right direction.
Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Alan Turing, the renowned inventor of the enigma machine) is enigmatic and transfixing as always – his unyielding grasp on the role – which is certainly one of his finest yet – encourages the widely-believed notion that he is one of Britain’s greatest classical actors across multiple genres, able to blend comedy darkly with drama and tragedy – as displayed with the BBC’s much-loved Sherlock.
In early scenes especially, when Turing attempts to convince his superiors (including an electric scene with Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston) that he is the only man clever enough to solve the war, as it were, there is more than a hint of the arrogant detective about him. It’s in The Imitation Game, though, that he truly cements his abilities – in fact he suffuses the role with such a potent, dangerous charm that I was constantly on the edge of my seat, feeling as though I was about to fall off a cliff into cavernous mist.
As is the case with almost all screen biopics, some scenes were invented for dramatics and pacing. I don’t necessarily resent this, but there does seem to be a misleading thread in the film, one that interweaves Turing’s homosexuality with his genius. In the face of historical fact, there should not be a proposed link between these ‘characteristics’ – yes, Turing was both, but he was by nature and chance (if the two can be said to work together). The film appears to delight in pairing the Turing’s genius with his sexuality, as though a diamond with not just one rare quality, but two, had been discovered in the rough. There has also been disappointment in reaction to the non-existent scenes between Turing and a romantic male partner – however, Cumberbatch has already commented quite succinctly on the subject: if the audience should need more than an ‘exquisite’ scene in which Turing describes a young man’s touch, then ‘all is lost for subtle storytelling.’
The cinematography and visual design do absolute wonders as narrative undertow. While the best screen design is only registered subconsciously by the viewer, somehow, here, it is possible to both acknowledge it yet remain fully inside this wartime world. The sets have an aura of grim practicality – of course they do, it’s the 1940s – yet at the same time, make for a rich, enchanting backdrop that surround the action. The most compelling scenes are ones spent inside a warehouse with Turing, where we hope for more and more glimpses of the mysterious, ingenious work – full knowledge of which, I’m sure, many still covet today. It is not a beautiful place – as far as set design goes, it has the same eerie allure of Terence Marsh’s prison in The Green Mile, but we are as captivated by the atmosphere as Turing is by his puzzle. It’s almost enough to forget the horror of the narrative – almost. And we can expect an Oscar nod for Faura’s cinematography, I think.
There was, though, one other dark horse that rounded this film off to become one of the year’s most ambitious and wholesome cinematic ventures: the music. There were no swelling chord progressions, as in the many blockbusters du jour (see Hans Zimmer’s bold and entirely appropriate soundtrack to Interstellar); instead Alexandre Desplat’s score was an undercurrent of vigilance and potential… it had a low, throbbing ebb – a dark heart to the film that succeeded magnificently in causing a tug of war between the thrilling victories of the titular character, and the imminent tragedy awaiting him. We can expect nothing else from the master of tinkering melodies that remind us simultaneously of hopeful innocence and impending disaster. More than this, the wonderful lure of The Imitation Game is a notion we all so want to believe – that the underdog, a clever, confident, problem solving genius can bring an end to terror with intellect and perseverance.