By Anna Formánková
One of the highly anticipated films of the year telling the story of one of the most unjustly mistreated man in the British history is coming into the cinemas. The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, arrives to uncover the life of the man who broke the Enigma code, Alan Turing.
“He’s one of those big unsung heroes in history and I feel very grateful to be allowed to tell his story,” says Morten Tyldum, the director of the Turing film. The history of Alan Turing and his team of code-breakers at Bletchley Park has been a long-kept secret, revealed only in the 1970s when the true role of the United Kingdom’s Government Code and Cypher School in the course of the World War II was disclosed.
The film chooses to follow not only Turing’s professional life and his role in breaking the most elaborate code of those times – the Enigma – but its main aim is to share the story of Alan, the mathematician who suddenly entered the fight for the world and who at the same time had to fight his own personal wars. “Any aspiration I have for the film is just to broaden people’s knowledge of him and get his story to a wider audience, so his legacy is truly celebrated the way it should be,” says Cumberbatch, who feels the necessity to present the world with Turing’s genius and to make justice to the man whom the. Tyldum further expands on the film’s aims: “[The Imitation Game] is a tribute to being different. This man was so ahead of his time. That’s why he became an outsider. He never really fit in because his brain worked differently from other people. And this is something that we should celebrate.”
Alan Turing, together with his team of colleagues, decoded the principle of Enigma and constructed the Turing machine which enabled the Allies to decipher the Axis communication, and therefore, bring the war to a much sooner end, a situation that would not happen if it were not for Turing’s work and dedication. However, the way Turing was treated by the British government after the war did not in the least resemble a treatment of a war hero.
Charles Dance, who stars as Commander Denniston, leader of the Bletchley Park school, reacts to Turing’s fate: “Alan unfortunately lived through that period when homosexuality was still a crime. And the fact that he was imprisoned for it and had to undergo pretty horrific kind of chemical treatment [sic] . . . If we look on the time now, it’s appalling, it really is.”
When Turing’s homosexuality came into public knowledge, the mathematician’s security clearance was cancelled. In 1952 Turing was convicted of sodomy – as homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time – and he was given two options to choose from: either a long-term imprisonment or a chemical castration. To still have the chance to work as a scientist – which was non-existent in prison – he was compelled to accept the latter option. Broken and deeply hurt Turing never really recovered from the emotional damage caused by the government’s treatment. The troubled man died of arsenic poisoning in 1954, just a few days before his 42nd birthday. After further investigation, his death was ruled a suicide.
Benedict Cumberbatch accepted the role of the neglected war hero with a great enthusiasm, ready to bring on the big screen “not just the tragedy of his suicide, and the reasons for that, but also his extraordinary brilliance and his life journey – this incredibly sensitive human being who was like touch paper to the world.”
“He was someone who was caring and loving, as well as someone who was determined and often in isolation,” says Cumberbatch, who believes that the film’s message will have a positive effect on the lives of the young. “If any young person’s ever felt like they aren’t quite sure of who they are, or aren’t allowed to express themselves the way they’d like to express themselves, if they’ve ever felt bullied by what they feel is the normal majority, or anything that makes them feel like an outsider, then this is definitely a film for them. It’s about a hero for them.”
The actor strived to capture all the aforementioned facets in his performance; however, it has not been an easy task. Even though inspired by the Andrew Hodges’s book, and therefore, provided with rather extensive information on Turing’s life and work, Cumberbatch and the creators of the movie had no research material upon which they could build, since there was “no visual or audio recording” of Turing’s manner. “It’s a blank canvas to an extent,” claims Cumberbatch, “so you have a bit of freedom, but you have nothing to bounce off.”
However, it seems that at the end, his remarkable acting skills and information gained from the people who knew Turing were enough to capture the genius mathematician credibly. Cumberbatch’s performance brought great attention to The Imitation Game and the film has already gained wide critical acclaim. Two weeks before its official release in the United States, the movie swept the Hollywood Film Awards, winning in four of the main categories, including Best Actor and Best Director awards. The film was nominated for 5 Golden Globe, and the Academy places The Imitation Game, its creators and performers among the top 2015 Oscars teams with 8 award nominations total, including Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, and Directing.
Nevertheless, some reviewers have been rather critical about the lack of explicitness regarding Turing’s homosexuality and not foregrounding the nature of Turing’s love life. However, Cumberbatch stands in defence of the creative decision: “I asked people who knew him, if they knew he was gay. Was he camp? They all said no. It never occurred to them. People just didn’t think about those things. And he didn’t parade it. He didn’t want to be found out. His tragedy was that he had to keep it secret.”
He explains his attitude towards Turing’s love life even further: “To me it’s less about his sexuality that it is about love; that he loved men was just a fact for him. He didn’t see it as being wrong, or different, or something that he needed to explain.” And even more outsiders support the subtlety of the film, including human rights activist Peter Tatchell who claims that “although the absence of any depiction of Turing’s gay life is disappointing to modern eyes, it is perhaps an appropriate symbolic reflection of his secretive attitude towards his own homosexuality and of the sexually repressed atmosphere at the time.”
As if the secrecy and repression of his true self was not enough, Turing’s tragedy was even aggravated by the abuse he had to face from the government. And for a long time, the story of the man who saved fourteen million lives only to be terribly prosecuted for his sexuality few years later, was not even known among the general public. Benedict Cumberbatch comments on his grief upon that realisation: “Why on Earth doesn’t everybody know this story? Why don’t people know about this man? Why is he not on the covers of textbooks, not just science books, but history books.” The actor elaborates on the idea further: “This is how we treated one of our war heroes, and a great scientist, someone who’s up there with Charles Darwin; he should be on banknotes. I don’t think Alan set himself up as a martyr, but he sure as hell was treated as one in a sense.” The authorities reacted to the unjust treatment of one of the most important war heroes only following an extensive Internet campaign in 2009, when Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way Turing was treated.” At last, the Queen granted him a posthumous pardon on the Christmas Eve in 2013.
The Imitation Game intends to uncover the life and story of the great scientist, whom the history repaid for his heroic deeds with severe persecution and abuse from the establishment. Keira Knightley, starring as Turing’s colleague, friend and one-time fiancée Joan Clarke, sums up the hopes and goals of the whole team: “I think the main thing is just to get the story – with some dramatic license – out there and for people to go ‘There was this man and this is horrendous what we allowed, what was done to him.’ And it shouldn’t be forgotten how extraordinary these people were and what they did. I think it’s very important that we remember that.”
- in Czech cinemas: from 29th January 2015
- directed by Morten Tyldum
- running time: 124 minutes
- starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Alex Lawter and others
- official website & IMDB profile
- movie trailer & selected promo scenes
As high as our expectations were, The Imitation Game did not disappoint us. The subtlety of storytelling which some of the critics reproached the film for matches the nature of Turing’s story and the overall effect is the stronger that the creators do not present the harshness and tragedy of Alan Turing’s life with unnecessary opulence. Some might argue against slight historical inaccuracies; however, these do not in the least affect the message that the film intends to pass on.
Should we pinpoint a highlight performance of the whole piece, it would be the uncanny correspondence of Turing’s portrayal between Alex Lawther’s young Alan and Cumberbatch’s adult counterpart. Not often do such performances match one another that faultlessly. Switching between flashbacks and the actual storyline, Lawther and Cumberbatch together create a believable depiction of a real person, the younger actor not lagging behind his more famous colleague in any respect.
Considering the film a as whole, all hopes that the movie, its actors, and creators pledged were fulfilled. The Imitation Game, supported by powerful score by Alexandre Desplat, passes on the Alan Turing’s legacy and manages to honour the life of an extraordinary individual firmly, yet subtly.
Re:Views verdict: 95 %
The Enigma: Alan Turing
Written in 1992 already, Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing: The Enigma is the definitive autobiography of Alan Turing that inspired the film The Imitation Game. Describing Turing’s life from his early days to his tragic death, the book covers all of Turing’s work and experience, including his mathematical and theoretical work. Ahead of the release of the film, the book has been published again, this time featuring the film cover.
The Enigma is a sophisticated code which has been developed by German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I. During the 1920s it has been employed for commercial use; however, the code and the enciphering machine reached their notoriety during the World War II when it was used by Nazi Germans and the Axis powers for encoding the military information.
Photo Courtesy: StudioCanal