There is no genre as omnipresent as the prestige British period film. These films have a long history, and as long as cinema has existed, there have existed the intense and sometimes dreadfully boring period pieces. They reached their peak with the Merchant-Ivory period pieces, and since then, there have been some brilliant ones, and some that were not really entertaining, but more a duty to see. Some people will not appreciate the dreary, overlong films that occupy this part of film history, but every so often, something special comes in the form of a British period drama that is actually…rather enjoyable. The Imitation Game, on the surface, looks like it will be a complex and quite frankly, boring biopic of a mathematician. What it actually turned out to be was an engaging, exciting and thrilling story of a very underrated historical figure.
Its likely you’re reading this on a computer, or some type of device with the capabilities of a computer. Without the man who is at the center of The Imitation Game, it is almost certain that I wouldn’t have been able to publish this review, or for you to read it in the way you are. Alan Turing was one of the most brilliant men to ever live, and the fact that he himself (and his team of dedicated co-workers) helped reduce World War II by a considerable amount of years, should put him at the center of great, incredibly famous men. Saying this, why is he still shrouded in some sort of obscurity? It is because of how he was treated by the British government when they realized he was closeted. In those times, it was considered a crime to be homosexual, and as soon as the government found out, which was a considerable amount of time after he helped end the war, they did an absolutely dreadful thing – they gave him the choice to either go to prison for indecency, or be put on hormonal therapy to lessen any libidinous urges. It was the same treatment that cause Turing to commit suicide at the age of 41.
Benedict Cumberbatch has gained a rather notable filmography, being Sherlock Holmes, a Star Trek villain, a Middle Earth dragon and a dozen other soon-to-be iconic roles. He breaks out in full force as Turing. While we have seen Cumberbatch do the “tortured genius” several times before, none of them have been as fully-rounded and complex as his Alan Turing. Turing is an inherently unlikable character – he is prissy, elitist and has absolutely no sense of humor, and takes no notice as to how nasty he is to those around him. Yet he is still absolutely endearing, and his awkward intelligence is actually very emotionally resonant with a lot of people. To see his childhood, how he became the genius he was, gave his characteristics and personality a lot more depth. Cumberbatch, who I have previously criticized for his often cold, lifeless demeanor, actually really impressed me here. He never rises to the levels of the most brilliant performers this year, but he does do his very best bringing Alan Turing to life, and it may be his career highlight.
Keira Knightley may still be in her 20s, but she feels a lot older, mainly because of her maturity as an actress. Consistently excellent in everything she does, but sadly all too often overlooked when it comes to recognition, Knightley is an actress who has accumulated enough great performances in her almost two-decade career that any actress much older would die for. In The Imitation Game, she plays Joan Clarke, an incredibly intelligent and classy woman who had enough brains to end up working in an entirely male career. While Turing is the smartest character in the film, there is no doubt Joan is the most intelligent, because not being an incredible math genius like Turing, she has the good knowledge to play it safe and know exactly how to form meaningful human connections with other people. She and Turing are a compelling couple, and Knightley and Cumberbatch have great chemistry, and Knightley is just too charming to ignore, in everything she does. She brings a more jovial, enthusiastic spirit to The Imitation Game, and just like Cumberbatch’s complex central performance, Knightley is just as essential to the film, because without her, the story would just not be pushed to the boundaries it was.
If you’re expecting a sullen, dreary drama, then The Imitation Game will surprise you. It is not at all lighthearted, but there are some moments of great humor, particularly from the reactions of the more level-headed characters to Turing’s often obtuse and elitist view on life. The film can’t even come close to being considered a comedy, but like with all of the great dramatic films, The Imitation Game knows how to diffuse the drama with some humorous situations, which keep the audience enthralled and entertained, and makes us want to keep watching. Kudos to the writer and director (and I must note it is the English-language debut for the wonderful Norwegian director Morten Tyldum) for making it serious, but still entertaining.
Ultimately, the story of Alan Turing is a tragic one. Turing worked day and night to solve an impossible Nazi code, and helped the Allies win the biggest war in history. His reward was to be prosecuted for being homosexual and forced to undergo treatment that affected his mind and body, and caused him to kill himself because he wasn’t able to be who he wanted to be. The film did become a little bit preachy about this message towards the end, but it was an important story to tell – Alan Turing was a man who deserved a lot more respect than he received, and if The Imitation Game achieved anything at all, it was to bring the figure of Alan Turing into the public lexicon, and hopefully endeavored to make him a household name, which he should be.
The Imitation Game had some amazing performances from the cast, notably Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, and it was honestly much more entertaining than it should’ve been, and it now fits into the small group of historically important, but accessible, period drama films. It is a fascinating, emotional and wonderfully heartfelt story about a man who gave so much to the world, and received nothing but disrespect. A truly wonderful and unique film.