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Film Review: The Imitation Game

14/11/2014 11:57 GMT | Updated 14/01/2015 10:59 GMT

So The Imitation Game is a good film, yes, but I'm not going to say it's a great film. It's engaging at time but too often it's boring, drama is crowbarred in to try and make it more exciting and most of the characters are caricatures - flat and unbelievable - with little character development.

However...

The acting is absolutely superb with a stunning central performance from the internet's favourite actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, whose portrayal of the tragic hero is full of depth. He fleshes out Turing fully, bringing him to life with humour and warmth, as well as getting under the skin of Alan's more complex side and his difficulties in developing meaningful relationships with anyone.

Without this performance, The Imitation Game would not be worth watching. Because of it, it is worth the price of the admission ticket. But that is not to say that this film does not have profound flaws.

The plot consists of three storylines told in three parts of Alan Turing's life. The main story follows Alan's time at Bletchley, where he turned up a fresh-faced 27 year old maths prodigy to crack the unbreakable German code, Enigma.

This central plot is supported by flashbacks to Alan's life as a schoolboy at Sherborne and flash forwards to 1951 when Alan is investigated by a police chief for strange behaviour following an alleged break in at Alan's house in Manchester.

Interestingly, it is the story of the young Alan (an excellent performance from Alex Lawther) which has the most emotional punch as we see him slowly open up to the object of his affections, Christopher Morcom. And frustratingly this emotional heart just doesn't transfer to either of the other plot lines, robbing us of the emotional payoff of Alan's untimely death.

The main plot seems to be trying to be an action-adventure type, set-up with a few high comedy scenes thrown in for good measure. Only we all know how WW2 ended, and that Enigma was broken, so it was an odd choice as there's little suspense for us, the audience.

At times the film is interminably dull. Drama between the characters stuck at Bletchley is racked up with some artificial set-ups such as an argument between Joan (Alan's friend and to-be fiancée, played by Keira Knightley) and Alan that comes out of nowhere - and Joan slapping Alan's face is just so out of character and so out of place that it is just bewildering.

Or the film reverts to cranking up the volume in its melodramatic musical score to ramp up the drama between Alan and the supposed villain at Bletchley, Charles Dance's Commander Denniston.

The film is desperate to manipulate us emotionally, to get us to feel something for these characters and therefore to be emotionally affected by the conclusion. But that compassion isn't earned by the script or the direction. Instead it is the acting that really impacts.

Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as Alan Turing. The actor has certainly done his homework - the high pitch tone to Alan's voice is there, as is his gentle stammer. The film also looks to avoid the stereotypical socially awkward genius that these characters get typecast as, and credit must also go to scriptwriter Graham Moore for this too.

Alan was not anti-social. He actually liked going out in the evenings with the other workers at Bletchley - it's just that his social skills were so terrible when he was there. And this is beautifully reflected in many witty scenes as Alan tries to make efforts with those around him.

Mark Strong, Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear are the finest of actors and, inevitably, they make a lot from very little, lifting their characters off the page and adding real depth and colour.

The film has at times only a tenuous link to reality but that is often the challenge with turning fact into fiction. I have written about Alan Turing before, both on his pardon and his legacy, but I'm not going to get too worked up about the exaggerated role for Joan or the other issues as it is a tough enough challenge for scriptwriters to frame reality into a workable plot structure.

It's also worth mentioning that I thought Keira Knightley was quite wonderful as Joan. She has her detractors, I know, but I thought her Joan brought real spirit and was a completely believable contrast and confidante for Alan.

For me, the big problem in the film isn't in its inaccuracy, its dull parts or even in its confused narrative. Its worst offence is in its treatment of Turing's sexuality.

At no point in the film does Turing even look at a man, let alone kiss or have sex. Considering how this story ends, that is just bizarre. Instead we are meant to suffice with the repressed love of the young Turing who gazes wistfully at Christopher, the object of his affections.

This isn't on. It is unacceptable that Turing's homosexuality is tiptoed around like this. What happened to show, don't tell? Instead of demonstrating that Turing is gay, we are reduced to having characters in Bletchley say to Alan "You're homosexual aren't you?" and Turing replying "Yes."

And that's it.

And from this we are therefore meant to care when Alan kills himself because he is punished for being gay. Because no matter how much the film tries to crank up the drama on will they/won't they break the code, the true emotional heart of the film is in Alan's personal tragedy and we are not allowed any opportunity to invest in this at all.

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch I believe has responded to criticism of this by saying that the film is explicit in stating what happened between Alan and a man he has a fling with, but just because Turing says the word "penis" under cross-examination from Rory Kinnear's police chief, it doesn't ease the problem.

If Alan had been heterosexual, The Imitation Game would only have been too happy to have a passionate kiss scene between the repressed Turing and his saviour Joan. So why aren't we allowed to see Turing express his passions with a man? It's the one part of his life where Alan is true to himself and his heart so why don't we see it?

Only fleetingly do we see the man that led to Alan's arrest, through the bars of police cell. Alan's own acquaintance with Arnold Murray was not that fleeting but even if the film wanted to obliquely refer to Alan being undone by only a temporary encounter, why so shy in showing it?

This affair Alan had is pivotal to the film and to Alan's life (and death). It is this one incident that unravels everything. Considering how much investment we are forced to make in more peripheral and even fictional characters, it is bizarre that we are given no time to get caught up in the one incident that matters.

This comes back down, I think, to the plot and the film not being sure what it wants to be - is this a drama about Bletchley or a film about Alan Turing? I don't think it knows. The story set in 1951 isn't really wrapped up with any satisfaction, leaving the film to resort to posting up endless captions at the end to explain what happened to Turing. And that isn't enough to make me care.

It is perversely ironic that though Turing was unashamed of his sexuality, the film of his life seems to be. This film may not be perfect but its high profile high-calibre cast will no doubt be effective enough to spread the story of Alan Turing far and wide.

And I suppose if this leads to more people reading Andrew Hodges' biography or wanting to know more about Turing, I'll take that. But its attitude to Turing's homosexuality is a missed opportunity to fly the flag high and proud for gay rights.