I love Benedict Cumberbatch, because I’m a human and alive now – the two prerequisites for loving Benedict Cumberbatch. Once he was just a funny name, but now he’s the go-to guy for playing real people with great intelligence and rubbish social skills. And dragons, obviously.
In The Imitation Game, Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the mathematician who led a team of codebreakers to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II, before being persecuted for his homosexuality and eventually driven to suicide by the British government. The film captures this shameful chapter of British history with compassionate performances and an engrossing narrative, which moves skilfully between Turing’s school days, his wartime work at Bletchley Park and his post-war arrest.
This allows the character to develop beyond the inescapable Sherlock similarities – Alex Lawther is impressive as the young Turing, while Cumberbatch’s performance is funny, intelligent and moving. This is perhaps his best moment since Radio 4’s Cabin Pressure, still his greatest work. Together, they make Turing more than just an enigma attempting to imitate human behaviour. Their Turing is a tragic figure and a believable character, which gives the film a strong sense of humanity – the government was wrong not for its treatment of a war hero, but of a person. Turing was pardoned a year ago, but as my co-goblin Alex pointed out, what about the thousands of others prosecuted for their sexuality?
The rest of the cast are on top form, most notably Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong, whose lurking in the shadows of every scene is one of many unrealistic liberties taken by the film, which strays once too often from real events. In true biopic style, Eureka moments are distractingly flagged up in Graham Moore’s none-too-subtle screenplay, which actually features the line: “If you fire him… you have to fire me.” Or Mark Strong’s threateningly secretive: “None of you have ever heard the word Enigma.” Or what about: “I think Alan Turing’s hiding something.” No shit. Sherlock.
Nevertheless, this is another strong Sunday afternoon film and a remarkable change of pace for Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, whose last feature was the brilliant Jo Nesbø adaptation Headhunters, which also had puzzle-like qualities. Here there are two puzzles, the code and the man trying to break it, both of which the film tackles with success – far more success than Cumberbatch’s Julian Assange biopic The Fifth Estate, mostly because this is actual history rather than simply opportunism. This means the story feels complete and its subject well-realised, with a sense of excitement about its codebreaking drama that makes The Imitation Game infinitely more interesting than doing a stupid Sudoku.