The Imitation Game is yet another biopic about a genius man. Its more entertaining than The Theory of Everything and less moving than Selma but just as controversial as American Sniper for the inaccurate portrayal of Alan Turing. The film felt like a history lesson or, as my husband Kevin put it, “a really well done NOVA Special.”
Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) helped break the German Enigma code during World War II and is credited with shortening the war by two years, essentially saving 40 million lives. The story of his genius, work during the war and his eventual persecution as a gay man in 1950s England is an important story to tell. It is a different perspective on what a war film can be and it sheds light on a terrible injustice gay men suffered in England for far too long (the law that criminalized homosexuality in England was only overturned in 2003).
The film jumps around in time from Turing’s grade school days to his time as a code breaker to his life years after the war. We see him struggle with his homosexuality as a child and hide it as an adult until he is caught and sentenced to chemical castration. The last thirty minutes of the film carry all the emotional weight and was the only time I was fully invested.
The role of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) as the only female code breaker was sadly under and over played for the wrong reasons. Her relationship with Turing, some say, was widely embellished but her actual role in the code breaking was sadly diminished. Other than solving a crossword puzzle to make it onto the team, there are no scenes of Clarke helping push the project forward other than reading daily transcripts to Turing. Here’s an idea for a truly revolutionary biopic, one starring Joan Clarke.
Overall, the film does its job as a biopic but it also falls short in many ways and the many discrepancies between the film and the real life personality of Turing and his combative war commander, Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance). The real problems with the film are one in the same with the changes to the real story, the filmmakers didn’t trust the actual events and people to be interesting enough to hold an audience. Their changes are, in fact, the reason the film did not connect with me.
Why must genius always be portrayed as socially inept? Why did they make Alan Turing a fumbling loner that none of his war collegues liked or trusted? Why did the filmmakers think we needed an internal conflict when everyone watching knows that the only real antagonist in the film is Germany, or rather the German Enigma machine? There was no reason to fabricate conflict between Commander Denniston and Turing. As an audience, we realize that time is the enemy and the team is fighting against the clock to break the code and end the war.