For me, this movie version of Alan Turing cracking the Enigma code on general release is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Yes, yes, I know it has the man of the moment, Benedict Cumberbatch, playing the eccentric mathematician, but, in my view, he does it in an utterly predictable way: awkward mannerisms and obsessive behaviour sprinkled with much stuttering. It’s all a bit of a ‘mad professor’ cardboard cut-out performance. I will be astonished if he gets a BAFTA or an Oscar for it.
Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing in Breaking the Code 1996
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game 2014
The real Alan Turing
Derek Jacobi’s rendition of Turing in the BBC-produced film Breaking the Code, directed by Herbert Wise back in 1996 and based on the same book, was far subtler, nuanced, intimate and believable. In fact, the whole film is superior, and I bet it was made on a tiny budget compared to this Weinstein Company vehicle. But with that kind of finance and promotion bums will be firmly put on seats.
The basic story has been expanded, with new characters added and scenarios hyped up. The script is riddled with clichés with some terrible lines, especially those spoken by Charles Dance as the Turing-hating commander of Bletchley Park, who’d had Turing thrust upon him by Winston Churchill.
The very 21st century Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke
And there is also the strident and endlessly immaculately turned out Keira Knightley as Turing’s sidekick and later fiancée, Joan Clarke. In the BBC film, her character, played by Amanda Root, was far more plausible…
A far more convincing portrayal by Amanda Root playing the same charecter in Breaking the Code
The real Joan Clarke
The film is fragmented into three timescales: Turing’s boarding school years, the Bletchley Park war years and his post-war homosexual revelations. These three periods are constantly interwoven backwards and forwards throughout, which for me became a little irritating.
My other disappointment was in the general production. The cinematography was very patchy and over-lit in places, often lacking subtlety and atmosphere. And everyone looked far too scrubbed up and ironed. The background extras, of which there were many, just didn’t have the right faces for the period and were also too immaculate. If you look at any Ken Loach or Mike Leigh film, they always put great effort into the background casting; it goes that extra mile to creating authenticity...
Mike Leigh's Vera Drake where everyone looks authentic and believable for the period
The propping was too obvious and carefully placed, just in case we didn’t notice how clever they had been in the prop-buying department. Add to this some dollops of sentimentality heightened by a manipulative score of soaring strings and you have a classic formulaic film.
If nothing else, it still managed to entertain, but no more than that.
For something more authentic, watch the Derek Jacobi 1996 version, which also features Harold Pinter. Click here.