Our Cinema Society screening today was the much-heralded film that’s not only getting Best Actor buzz for Benedict Cumberbatch but Best Picture buzz. Winner of the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival, it’s the type of movie Oscar voters love – a veddy veddy British period piece based on a true story with terrific acting, a beautiful score and a stirring screenplay.
Cumberbatch is brilliant as Alan Turing, the obsessive, socially inept (with Asperger’s, most likely) mathematician who cracked the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Moving back and forth in time, the movie begins as Turing is being interrogated by a policeman after his home is burgled, creating a suspenseful opening to the story. We see Turing as a young prodigy at boarding school who’s bullied by the other boys because he’s such an outsider/nerd. We see him talking his way into a top-secret job with the Government Code and Cipher School where he doesn’t get along with his superiors or co-workers but does manage to impress an MI6 agent played by the always compelling Mark Strong. We see him invent a machine that ultimately breaks the code used by the Nazis to encode all military radio transmissions. And we see him recruit a female mathematician (Keira Knightley) with whom he forges a friendship but not a romance. Turing is a closeted gay man and homosexuality is illegal in Britain, and his story does not have a happy ending. In the closing credits we learn that Turing, who committed suicide two years after being arrested for indecency, was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth in 2009 and is now considered the hero he was.
There are some great lines of dialogue that stem from Turing’s outsider-ness, but there’s too much “speechifying” for me. Characters often talk in sayings of the type that appear on bumper stickers and the cast should have been allowed to act out those moments rather than tell us what we’re supposed to be thinking. But the use of historical footage (Hitler, Churchill, wartime Britain) is very effective and the overall feel of the film is Big Oscar Picture in the same way that “King’s Speech” was. And Cumberbatch and Knightley deserve all the acclaim they’re getting; they’re wonderful to watch. Which is to say I liked “The Imitation Game” a lot, I really did. It just didn’t get to me in that way that generates the sentiment: “This is the best movie I’ve seen this year.”