Creating An Enigma

The Imitation Game: Cinema’s Celebration Of A Very British Hero.

By Catherine McGee.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

This weekend sees the long anticipated release of The Imitation Gamethe true story of British Mathematician Alan Turing and his contribution to the end of WW2. Studded with the best of British performers, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley & Charles Dance, this biopic, much like the winning of the War itself, is a true multi-national endeavour, with a Norwegian director (Morten Tyldum),  an American screenwriter (Graham Moore) and a Spanish director of photography (Óscar Faura).

Like Turing’s life, the film is complex and heart-breaking.  Writer Graham Moore observes: “It’s an amazing life story. It’s one of those which, if you’d made it up, wouldn’t have been believable.” 

It’s 1954 and at the Manchester home of  Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) is following up a burglary report, and it’s Nock provides a conduit for the viewer, exploring the extraordinary, unfathomably tragic life of Alan Turing through his time working in British intelligence.

Flash back to 1927 where a shy and bullied 15-year-old Turing (Alex Lawther) endures the melancholy of being an outsider in a traditional British boarding school. His misery is lifted when he meets handsome schoolmate Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon), with whom he forms a secret but deep mutual attraction, communicating their feelings using cryptography. Their relationship is destined to serve as a cruel prelude to a life riddled with secrecy and alienation for Turing.

By 1939, his mathematical acumen brought Turing to Bletchley Park to help break the German Enigma Code and, it was hoped, ultimately win the war.  As he navigates working relationships with fellow scholars and geniuses, the ever watchful eye of Naval Commander Alastair Denniston (Dance) takes definite a dislike to him. Says Dance: I think [Denniston] was rather intimidated – certainly by Alan Turing’s intellectual ability, which was far superior to Denniston’s… It’s a kind of pheromone thing as well, this dislike of Alan Turing and it gives great tension to the piece.”

Keira Knightley & Benedict Cumberbatch in THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

Turing struggles to work with the pressures of the team. A closeted homosexual, he must also conceal his identity from his colleagues or face imprisonment under British law. It is at Bletchley Park that he meets Joan Clarke (Knightley) with whom he bonds instantly – enough to offer her a marriage proposal and, despite knowing he’s gay, she accepts. Knightley explains that Clarke and Turing had a mutual necessity for silence during their working relationship, which fostered a deep friendship. She Says: It felt like a very important story to tell. It’s quite extraordinary that you could spend six years of your life doing something like that and then never speak of it again. They weren’t allowed to talk about it – and they weren’t even allowed to talk to each other about it. Alan and Joan were great friends.”

Despite the social pressures, being a reclusive genius and the mammoth task of winning the war, Turing is described as a warm character. Says Cumberbatch: “When he [made eye contact] you felt bathed in a very humane, intrigued, witty and rather lovely personality. He was very focused and often deemed to be in his own world…he would do some very eccentric things, but he was very open about them. He was a remarkable human being, a very kind soul, a very benign, slightly gauche, but a very doggedly determined, single-minded human being of extraordinary talent.”

But it’s not just about the tragedy and isolation. As Moore explains: “We wanted to make a film that was a celebration of him and of his life, as well as his work.” In fact, many of the crew believe it was Turing’s otherness that makes him such a relatable figure, and tremendously likeable in the bargain.

Benedict Cumberbatch & director Morten Tyldum on the set of THE IMITATION GAME.

Producer Teddy Schwarzman talks about his bond with the character, saying: “I tend to appreciate the outsider, the thinker, who’s doing things that others deem extraneous or superfluous or wrong and yet who, through his own sheer will, finds a way to make an impact. This is the story of one man who made something from nothing, profoundly influencing generations to come.” This love of the outsider is a theme carried through the production process and the finished edit. Director Tyldum talks about his involvement in the story as a non-Brit: “It’s good to have an outside view of it, as it naturally leads to an emphasis on the universal elements of the story. This was a special time in British history, make no mistake. But these ideas of Alan’s, they were so much bigger than the time and the war.” 

It seems fitting that only a team with such diversity could effectively and respectfully tell the many-layered story of a hidden hero. Turing’s own story may end in tragedy, but Morten Tyldum and his crew have succeeded in celebrating his legacy with a biopic every bit as remarkable as his life.

The Imitation Game is on general release in the UK from Friday November 14th.

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