“Who won the war?” “The Allies.” “Yes, but who won it?” In a war that has been taught to generations since to have been a black-and-white affair, it’s considered bad form to identify Stalin’s ruthless defence of Stalingrad as being the turning point against the Nazis. Instead, the individual nations that made up the Allied forces like to paint themselves as the source of the dynamic shift, most notably the Americans who like to focus on the grand spectacle of A-bombs and D-Days, conveniently leaving out their insignificant two and a half year holiday in the north of Africa. Enter The Imitation Game, and Britain’s belated claim to being responsible for the turning point in the war they nearly lost.
Telling the story of Alan Turing and his Enigma code-breaking computer, The Imitation Game is mostly about British intelligence’s behind-the-scenes work on cracking Nazi codes, but in a late third act twist turns out to actually be about Britain’s anti-homosexuality laws. This thematic shift is accompanied by a number of leaps through time. As we jump from the early ’50s, to the war years and then back to Turing’s childhood you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a badly constructed film.
We get some scenes of Turing with a friend in school, who all but tells him “one day you’re going to grow up and crack the Nazi codes.” It’s also the introduction of the naff “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” a line Cumberbatch says to Keira Knightly at one point and then she says back to him again later. That’s a technique straight out of the “Idiot’s Guide to Screenplay Writing”.
These bits of acquired wisdom cause the film to suffer greatly, which is a shame as beneath the dramatically convenient antagonism of Turing’s colleagues and the oppressively contrived story shifts, there does seem to be some emotional connection to Turing’s inner turmoil. This is largely down to Cumberbatch’s performance which is far and away the best thing about The Imitation Game.
As the film is coming to its end, it comes remarkably close to fulfilling its emotional potential, but spectacularly fumbles the ball at the last minute with the reintroduction of that dreadful “the people no one imagines anything of” line. It’s a bit like watching a tight rope walker slip and fall into a safety net; the risk was low to begin with but it would have been impressive if he made it all the same. In cinemas 14 November 2014. Watch the trailer here.