If ever there is an indication that a movie has affected its audience, it is when, during the credits, there is a drawn-out silence and no headlong rush towards the exit. The Imitation Game is one such movie and this viewer will no doubt join many who will remember, remain moved and ponder on the story for years to come.
Benedict Cumberbatch excels in his role as real-life crypt-analyst Alan Turing, who, with his selected team of super-intelligent mathematicians, literally race against the clock in an attempt to break the German’s Enigma Code during World War Two.
The monumental challenge of breaking the code is summed up in the exchange between Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance), who heads the top-secret mission, and Turing. ‘Enigma isn’t difficult, it’s impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable,’ Denniston states. Turing calmly replies, ‘Good. Let me try and we’ll know for sure, won’t we?’
A supportive cast headed by Keira Knightley, who plays his love interest and fellow code-breaker, Joan Clarke, is followed by Matthew Goode as lead assistant Hugh Alexander. Allen Leech plays John Cairncross, a colleague whose allegiance is questionable, and Matthew Beard the last of the team, plays Peter Hilton. Most of the action takes place at Bletchley Park, a designated top-secret, Government Code and Cypher School.
In a flashback, we see Turing as a gifted young student, who in today’s term would be considered a geek or freak, is mistreated and bullied by his peers. In an insightful conversation, Turing speaks of his dilemma of never being able to play the game that people play: ‘When people talk to each other, they never say what they mean. They say something else and you’re expected to just know what they mean.’
Conversely, Turing is matter-of-fact and disconcertingly honest in his dealings with those around him, which is off-putting to the majority of people who don’t know or understand him.
Yet, it is the unique qualities which differentiate him from his peers that lead to his success in breaking the Enigma code. The profound line, ‘Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine,’ sums up Turing and is originally stated by Christopher, his close friend in school; is repeated by Turing himself and quoted later by Joan.
While it is understood that the task of breaking the code is anything but straightforward, it is the multiple layers of duplicity, dilemma, human emotion and questionable integrity and honour that drives the story to its climax. And the sad reality is that it is based on fact.
Cumberbatch was so affected by the personality he played that he admitted he couldn’t stop crying in one of the final scenes and candidly confessed to, ‘being an actor or a person that had grown incredibly fond of the character and thinking what he had suffered and how that had affected him.’
Winston Churchill deemed Turing made the, ‘single greatest contribution in Britain’s war effort,’ and according to historians, not only was the war shortened by approximately two years but around 14 million lives were saved. This unquestionable feat was designated a government secret (the Official Secrets Act) for the duration of 50 years post-war and Turing and his team therefore, received no public recognition for their respective roles.
According to Hugh Alexander, ‘Turing’s work was the biggest factor in Hut 8’s success.’ He candidly admits Turing was ‘indispensable’ and ‘the magnitude of Turing’s contribution was never fully realised by the outside world.’
Turing could be labelled as the ‘founding father of our modern day computers,’ as his ‘Turing machine,’ led to further research and progress in the field.
Asa Briggs, renowned historian and another codebreaker himself, states, ‘You needed exceptional talent, you needed genius at Bletchley and Turing was that genius.’
This is one movie I am glad I did not miss and would readily see again.
Incidentally, if you are heading for London, you can visit, ‘The Imitation Game’ exhibition at Bletchley Park. The exhibition which opened on 10 November 2014 will run for a year and has on display, the costumes and props from the film. The original Turing Machine is also housed at the Museum at Bletchley Park.
© Wendy Robinson February 2015
The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity.
The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. ~ Winston Churchill
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