Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2014. Black Bear Pictures, Bristol Automotive. Screenplay by Graham Moore, based on the book by Andrew Hodges. Cinematography by Oscar Faura. Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by Academy Awards 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
A police officer in 1950s London investigates the robbery of the laboratory of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is not dismayed at the event and insists that nothing has been taken. The cop is suspicious of the calm this man shows and pokes his nose in a little further, believing it to be connected to top-secret projects from World War II that could mean that Turing is and has always been a spy for the Russians. What he gets from his interview subject, when Turing is forced to come in and answer questions, is a flashback through his career and experiences, taking us back to the late thirties when the mild-mannered, anti-social man was brought in to help with the war effort. The plan was to crack Enigma, the German machine that sent encoded messages to Axis forces around Europe which decided some of the most devastating attacks. Turing, ever the misanthrope but obsessed with his work, comes up with a plan to build an even bigger machine to understand the one in question, a project that sees thousands of pounds spent and much labour expended while his co-workers think him mad and his superior (Charles Dance) looks for any excuse to fire him. All Turing has on his side is a brilliant colleague (Keira Knightley) who matches if not outdoes his intelligence but is constantly short-shrifted because of her gender. The two become good friends, her presence also handy given that he is gay and needs to keep it a secret. Director Morten Tyldum has made an intelligent epic with this wholly satisfying period film, one that follows the expected path (inception-creation-result that runs parallel with the development of personal relationships) but is told with such intelligence and sympathy that it’s not hard to ignore the drawbacks (it all feels too scrubbed up and prestigious, particularly the gay elements being handled with kid gloves). Cumberbatch is astoundingly good in the lead, aided beautifully by an instinctively funny Knightley and a terrific Matthew Goode as the handsome cad who can never see why he should work for such an oddball; the complexity and talent of these actors (and the rest of the cast) gives the film much of its weight. Period details are superb and the film comfortably switches back and forth between eras to detail the unsung heroics of people who bear a great responsibility for the eventual Allied victory, at the same time taking into account the many difficult compromises made in doing so, and highlighting the tragedy of Turing’s being able to do so much for humanity while being condemned for who he is.