For starters, this is a very, very silly film. It frolics with the flair of a classic, self-conscious British export, all vintage frocks and nostalgia tinged tradition. That is just Keira Knightley. The only thing missing is the king of Speech himself, Colin Firth (just don’t ask him to voice Paddington, cheers Ben…) and all the stereotypes of British, overseas box-office successes would be fulfilled. Sadly, the quintessential Brit is missing, subsumed beneath Emma Stone’s vintage knickerbockers in Woody Allen’s latest, not even deigning to take a walk on George VI role.
However, though Firth’s duplicitous double agent is not present, the cast of 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy turn up in force, right on cue. Toby Esterhase’s cameo as a very quickly fired code-breaker, not able to keep up with the hard task master, Turing, shows that any number of years of experience at Smiley’s Circus cannot prepare you for the academic rigours of Bletchley Park’s historical Hut 8.
What happens in Hut 8, stays in Hut 8. And this was the case for many years, before Turing’s blemished legacy, the victim of a post war homosexual witch-hunt, despite his war-winning enigma-code cracking contribution was finally resuscitated through a royal pardon last year. Ah, so that’s why we have a monarch, to fail to pardon a war hero for the best part of seventy years, but make dames out of Kristen Scott Thomas and Joan Rivers. JOAN RIVERS!!!)
Anyway, the shroud of secrecy gives rise to another Tinker graduate, Mark Strong, whose lurking MI6 man Menzies threatens to steal most scenes with the screen presence of this most physical of actors. Then there is the small matter of the main man himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, whose Turing takes the sexual ambiguity of le Carre’s Gwillam and magnifies it to the max. As the homosexual antihero, popping out from under Christopher’s drawers (Christopher is both a machine, the first computer, and a fifteen year old boy by a process of intense creative licence) and making snide comments to authority in the shape of Rory Kinnear’s mancunian detective, it is hard not to think in Sherlock terms.
The performance feels like an audition for a Sherlock-flavoured reboot of Doctor Who. Perhaps writers of both, Gatiss and Moffatt would purr over their Baker Street genius spewing the scientific spiel of the Time Lord. Indeed, given the propensity for physical activity, regular runs and the disgruntled throwing of papers, plus the kinky companion in the form of Cambridge mathematician Joan (Knightley) and we have the formula for a rival intergalactic Galafray genius. Add the appallingly unconvincing CGI and perhaps you could offer a hybrid Doctor Who/Sherlock to keep the commissioning editors of the Beeb way within budget for 2015. Finally, there is the emotional gravity of the whole God complex side-story. Once Enigma’s eggs are cracked: “Good God” utters Benedict, only for Matthew Goode to riposte “we have more power now”. The Earth is saved from fascist aliens all in time for tea.
Graham Moore’s screenplay flits between three narratives, based on Andrew Hodges’ biography of Turing, but all seems rather simple despite the chronology and tiered complexity of the film. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum flirts with the nuance and idiosyncrasy of a unique brain, but his Turing is the distillation of a typically english eccentric, all alone and detached. Benedict does his utmost with the script that sometimes seeps into the realm of cringeworthy cheese, contorting his bespoke face. One strange reference point is his pre-Hollywood/Sherlock global-super-stardom role in Starter For Ten as the bloodcurdlingly nasty, aloofly angry, yet hilarious Bristol University Challenge captain. Both characters are compelling in their own way, but whereas previously he was a bonus sideshow, here his powers are under the spotlight for the duration.
Once again, Cumberbatch shines through splendidly in what would otherwise be a pretty tame rendition of a tale told far more effectively in 2001’s Enigma. It is more of a summer seasonal barnyard flick with tales of randy intellectuals confined to huts in the Buckinghamshire countryside than a real dabble with any weighty historical focus. It clunks and whirrs around its intricate subject matter, but unlike Christopher, its cogs never quite click into place and marry into a well-conceived whole. In essence, The Imitation Game sets out to render an account of a man whose legacy was forcibly removed from the long list of the greatest Great British innovators. In the fields of science and particularly technology Turing’s impact upon the world of Artificial Intelligence should rank alongside Newton’s to Physics or Darwin’s to Biology. Turing should be there with the double barrelled bloke who gave us the internet. A modern day demigod whose innate genius haphazardly saved us from the clutches of fascism. Thanks, Al.