The biopic of gay computing pioneer Alan Turing, The Imitation Game, has premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and the first reviews of the movie have arrived, which suggest both the film – and Benedict Cumberbatch in particular – are likely to get some Oscar attention.
The film is centred around how the unconventional and rather brusque Turing cracked the German Enigma code – which the Axis forces thought was completely secure – using an early computer that was able to sort through the millions upon millions of possible ciphers to decode the original messages.
In an article called ‘Imitation Game Demands Oscar’s Attention’, Variety says that the film ‘is clearly an awards contender: Complex, impeccably executed and unique. The film’s offbeat approach to an oddball character will be its greatest strength — and its challenge.’
THR adds that the film is ‘Engrossing, nicely textured and sadly tragic…’, adding that the distributor ‘has several angles it can play to build this prestige production into a considerable commercial success.’ Deadline agrees, saying ‘this one just has Academy Award nominations written all over it.’
However while some believe Morten Tyldum’s film may be too ‘conventional’ for Best Picture success, all seem to agree that Cumberbatch is very impressive as Turing, with Indiewire saying, ‘It’s a reserved, almost conservative performance, and in holding so much back so much of the time, Cumberbatch makes his few outward displays of emotion far more impactful.’
In THR’s words, ‘dominating it all is Cumberbatch, whose charisma, tellingly modulated and naturalistic array of eccentricities, Sherlockian talent at indicating a mind never at rest and knack for simultaneously portraying physical oddness and attractiveness combine to create an entirely credible portrait of genius at work.’
Variety meanwhile refers to Cumberbatch’s performance as ‘masterful’, adding ‘The Imitation Game doesn’t need its banal catchphrases to show us that Turing is a savant who sees and feels the world differently than most other people, because it’s there in every inch of Cumberbatch’s performance.”
Film Freak Central is also impressed, saying ‘Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing, truly’, while Hitfix eulogises, ‘Cumberbatch does a wonderful job bringing this characterization to life and it’s often his performance that overcomes some of the film’s melodramatic tendencies’.
Many seem to believe the film could bring Benedict his first Oscar nomination.
There was worry before the film started shooting that The Imitation Game would sideline or ignore Turing’s sexuality, with suggestions that some versions of the script almost made it a romance between the computer genius and young cryptographer Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).
However most of early reviews suggest this isn’t too much of a problem, with the entire movie framed by a key situation after the War in the early 1950s. Turing was robbed and when he told the police the culprit was likely to be a friend of his young male lover, rather than being helped by the authorities as he’d expected, he was charged and convicted of gross indecency. He was then chemically castrated (it was either that or go to prison) and his career destroyed. He later killed himself.
It was an astonishingly tragic end for a man who Churchill said made the greatest contribution to ending World War II. However his contribution to both the war effort and to computing in general was kept secret for years, both because how he broke the Engima Code was considered a state secret and because his sexuality made him an ‘undesirable’ by the social code of the time. He was eventually officially pardoned by the UK Government from the Gross Indecency charge, but not until a couple of years ago.
The reports on The Imitation Game from Telluride say the film includes a gay romance in Turing’s teenage years, as well as talking about the fact he’s had affairs and male lovers. While the movie does include that he proposed marriage to Joan (which did happen in real life), the reviews suggest this is put properly into the context of what he was trying to do during a time when homosexuality was illegal.
Indeed many suggest that it’s Turing’s eccentricity and his sexuality that are the overall theme of the movie, with Film Freak Central saying that ultimately the movie proposes that, ‘different is good, and you shouldn’t criminalize homosexuality, because what if a gay guy is the saviour of the free world and you just chemically-castrated him and caused him to kill himself?’, while Variety adds ‘The film ultimately celebrates anyone who is not “normal.”’
However the consensus is not universal and Hitfix comes to the opposite conclusion, feeling that the film whitewashes his sexuality far too much, saying ‘The more I ponder the ending of the film the more frustrated I become. In effect, much of Turing’s gay life is completely washed over. He says he had numerous affairs/lovers, but the film pushes the central relationship between his one-time fiance Clarke as the most prominent. That’s somewhat odd after Turing justifies the entire engagement as his way to keep her working on the secret project. Let’s be clear, Turing was one of the greatest gay men of the 20th century whose life was destroyed by an archaic charge in 1952. It’s almost head-scratching how the film could be structured to diminish this part of his life.’
We’ll be able to see for ourselves how it deals with Turing’s sexuality when The Imitation Game reaches the UK on November 12th and the US on November 21st.