The Imitation Game is based on Andrew Hodges‘ biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the British genius, with Keira Knightley in the supporting act. The direction is by Morten Tyldum and Graham Moore helms the screenplay.
Historians have noted that elements within the film represent distortions of what actually happened. Particularly, there are some inaccuracies in terms of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park and the portrayal of his relationship with friend Joan Clarke.
Keeping the historical inaccuracies aside, the film undoubtedly features some of the best works that the industry has to offer. Eight nominations in the 87th Academy Awards and five in the 72nd Golden Globe Awards are testaments to that claim. Human Rights Campaign – the LGBTQ+ civil rights advocacy and political lobbying organization – honored the film’s cast and crew for presenting Turing’s legacy to a larger audience.
Plot of The Imitation Game
Nock and Staehl, two police officers, investigate the mathematician Alan Turing following an apparent break-in at his home in 1951. It is here that he recounts his life in front of them.
In 1927-28, Turing is lonely and harassed during his stay in the boarding school. However, he comes across another boy, named Christopher Morcom, who piques his interest in cryptography. Gradually, he forms a friendship with him and starts to fall for him. Unfortunately for Alan, Christopher dies unexpectedly of TB before Turing can proclaim his love.
Life at Bletchley Park
In 1939, Turing travels to Bletchley Park when Britain declares war on Germany. He joins the cryptography team of five, under the supervision of Commander Alastair Denniston. The team is attempting to decipher the Enigma code, which the Nazis used to deliver the encrypted messages.
Turing is difficult to work with as he thinks little of his colleagues. He works alone to make a machine that can crack the codes of Enigma. Turing writes to Prime Minister Winston Churchill when Denniston refuses to support his machine’s construction. Mr. Prime Minister appoints Turing as the team’s leader and approves the funding for the machine. With power now at his disposal, he immediately fires two members from his team, for their incompetency. To recruit replacements, he publishes a challenging crossword puzzle in newspapers. Joan Clarke, a Cambridge graduate, passes Turing’s test and surpasses his expectations. However, Joan’s parents forbid her from working with young male cryptographers. Turing makes necessary arrangements for her so that she could stay and doesn’t have to face any problems in that regard. With Clarke’s guidance, Turing warms up to his coworkers. They begin to respect him and start working together as a team.
Christopher : the Code-breaking Machine
Turing names his code-breaking machine as Christopher, due to obvious reasons. Because the Germans reset these settings every day, they only have 18 hours at their disposal to crack the Enigma. Despite being functional, Christopher is unable to crack the encryption settings in a reasonable timeframe. Amidst all this, Joan plans to leave the team, as her parents are unhappy with her being twenty-five years old and still unmarried. To prevent her from leaving, Alan proposes her marriage, and she agrees.
One day, Turing has a revelation after overhearing a female clerk discussing the letters she receives. He realizes that he can design the machine to decipher those phrases he already knows are in some of the encrypted messages. Upon recalibration of Christopher, it quickly decodes an encrypted message. They celebrate their achievement, but Turing realizes that they cannot act on every decoded message or the Germans will figure out that the Enigma has been decrypted. With heavy hearts, they have to sacrifice many innocent lives to keep their work a secret. And by making careful use of Christopher, they manage to win the war. Their senior, Menzies, orders the cryptographers that they must destroy their work after the war and that they will never see or share what they have done, ever again.
Some people thought we were at war with the Germans. Incorrect. We were at war with the clock.Alan Turing, The Imitation Game (2014)
Turing’s sexuality – the underlying theme in The Imitation Game
At his engagement party, a sober Turing reveals to one of the British agents that he is homosexual. Upon hearing this, he advises Turing to keep this a secret. Later, Turing discovers that this man is a double-agent, also spying for Russians. However, he can’t do anything with that information because Menzies is already aware of that fact and still lets the agent work for them. Fearing about Joan’s safety, he discloses to her that he is homosexual and tells her to leave Bletchley Park. Despite knowing everything, Joan chooses to stay and finish the work that she was part of.
In 1952, Turing is convicted of gross indecency. Rather than serving a prison sentence, he opts for chemical castration so that he can continue working. Clarke pays him a visit at his home and is taken aback upon seeing his physical and mental health in decline. Now a married woman, she consoles him and reminds him that his work has saved millions of people’s lives and he should be proud of himself.
The epilogue of The Imitation Game says that Turing committed suicide on June 7, 1954, following a year of government-mandated hormone therapy. He received a posthumous Royal Pardon from Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, honoring his contributions that led to the development of the modern computer.
Performance in The Imitation Game
Although there are some inaccuracies in the film, it is still a great watch just based on the stellar performances from the ensemble cast.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s casting for the role of Turing is a no-brainer. After all, who else these days is better equipped to embody a narcissistic genius than Mr. Cumberbatch himself? Rather than reminding “Sherlock” or “Doctor Strange” to his fans, he breaks his own images to differentiate this eccentric genius as an entirely separate but no less captivating person.
If anyone could properly complement Cumberbatch’s act of Turing, it has to be Keira Knightley. As Joan Clarke, she contributes warmth, wit, and sass to the proceedings in the film. However, like Sherlock, Turing is prone to verbal spats that frequently end in hilarity, particularly with snooty superiors like Commander Denniston, played by the magnificent Charles Dance. Mark Strong portrays Stewart Menzies, the head of Intelligence, just as is expected of him, brilliantly.
All in all, The Imitation Game has got many things going for it. If you are not a history buff, bothered about historical accuracies, there are high chances of you falling in love with the story, its characters, and their respective portrayals.