Film Review: ‘The Imitation Game’ is a Spellbinding WWII Drama Despite Historical Inaccuracies

It’ll be quite a surprise if “The Imitation Game” gets passed over at the 2015 Oscar nominations, set to be announced on January 15th. The drama follows the work of mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to solve the puzzle of the Enigma, the German code machine. Figure out the key to the code and you’ve won World War II. Turing is joined by Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). His answer to the problem is to build a machine that will enable them to decipher the messages quickly.

The film also jumps to two other periods: young Turing’s (Alex Lawther) friendship with schoolmate Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon) and the break-in at his house in 1952. Turing is homosexual, which was illegal in the UK. The information is uncovered during the investigation of the robbery, leading to charges of “gross indecency” with “chemical castration” as the treatment.

As with many geniuses, the path to success is not easy. Turing is portrayed as socially awkward and stirs up animosity in his teammates and Commander Denniston (Charles Dance). Still, he finds an ally in Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) of MI6, who handles the propaganda once the German code is broken. In spite of the loneliness and trials that Turing endured, along with a tragic suicide, the film is a celebration of his contributions to ending the war.

“Imitation Game” is the English-language directorial debut of Morten Tyldum, with a script written by Graham Moore. The film is rather brilliant in its execution. There’s an almost seamless transition between scenes of Turing’s life and the cutaways to the war effort. The CGI is very good here, woven in with the old news footage we’re all familiar with from school or the likes of the History Channel. It does much to add to the spellbinding atmosphere and sense of urgency behind Turing’s work, as well as bringing the ’40s to life before our eyes.

One major criticism concerns the historical inaccuracies in the film, as reported by the Guardian and Slate. It’s a debate that’s inevitable with any biopic. On the one hand, filmmakers want to pack as much as they can into 114 minutes to give viewers a sense of the time and place: women in a world of men, homosexuality, and fighting Hitler. However, it can also be construed as a travesty to the legacy of Turing if that’s all people ever come to know about him. One must be careful balancing entertainment with historical truths lest it creates something that obviously reeks of being too dramatic to be real (Peter Hilton’s brother).

As I mentioned at the beginning, it seems likely that “The Imitation Game” will be a big name at the Oscars. Benedict Cumberbatch gives an arresting and intense performance as Turing, hooking you in from the beginning as his voice breaks through with “Are you paying attention?” Perhaps second to his artistry is Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, who exudes a nonchalance and power that can be both welcoming and dangerous all at once. Rounding out the stellar cast are Charles Dance (“Game of Thrones”), Keira Knightley, and Allen Leech (“Downton Abbey”) as the Soviet Spy. If for some reason Cumberbatch is snubbed at the Oscars, his career seems pretty set for a long time to come.

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