Despite recent press coverage, the Alan Turing story still isn’t well-known enough, so it’s a real treat – and a source of pride – to see it played out on the big screen, in this would-be Hollywood blockbuster.
Benedict Cumberbatch impresses throughout as Turing, an English mathematics professor who helped His Majesty’s Government beat the Nazis during World War II by cracking the impenetrable code of their Enigma machine. Turing’s complexities are nearly as difficult to grasp, and they are laid bare in a film which doesn’t seek to saint him. Alongside demonstrations of his unfathomable genius, Cumberbatch plays him as aloof, egotistical and generally unlikeable – particularly to the other men he works with at Bletchley Park (a handsome lot including Downton Abbey
’s Allen Leech). For better or for worse, there’s finally a bit of personality to go with the black and white pictures we know so well.
Those who are keen to hail Alan Turing as a gay hero (and who isn’t?) need not fear. The presence of Keira Knightley has nothing to do with ‘de-gaying’ Turing - but probably more to do with her determination to appear in every British period piece of the last decade or so. She plays Joan Clarke, a real-life fellow code-breaker to whom Turing was briefly engaged; this was a misguided (almost) marriage of convenience for both of them, which ultimately led to Turing confiding in her about being gay. A recurring flashback to his days at Cambridge tells the story of his first and only romance with a boy called Christopher, the consequences of which scarred him for life, but inadvertently set him up for the career which would help him save the world from fascism. Furthermore, the whole story is told through the narrative frame of Turing in a Manchester police station in 1952 after being arrested for "gross indecency".
This is without doubt the story of a man whose life and gifts were totally overlooked by a society still hung up on archaic sexuality laws. On screen the Blitz spirit will make you gleam with nostalgia - but our fine nation's treatment of one of our greatest gay ancestors will make you weep with outrage.
The popularity and talent of Cumberbatch may help this film to prove more popular than it might have seemed on paper (yes, there’s every likelihood he’ll receive an Oscar nomination for his efforts) but it’s unlikely to reach the lofty heights of cinematic cousins like The King’s Speech
. As marvellous a story as that of Turing and Bletchley Park is, the film can come off at times like too much history, without enough of the man himself. Nevertheless, the facts displayed at the end of the film, which inform audiences of Turing’s incredible legacy, are undeniable reminders of a remarkable man, and a most worthy biopic subject.
Rating: 4 stars
The Imitation Game opens in UK cinemas on November 14. In the meantime, click here to watch the trailer.