It’s a rare thing to be writing about Benedict Cumberbatch for you. So many of our 4YE staffers count themselves aficionados of the actor’s work that the opportunity doesn’t often come up. I plan to relish it!
Benedict Cumberbatch, apparently on a ‘figures from recent and not-so-recent history’ bent (after Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate and before taking on Shakespeare’s Richard III in the BBC’s next installment of The Hollow Crown), is playing Dr Alan Turing in the upcoming film The Imitation Game, which has fared well on the film festival circuit, garnering itself a People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Like The Fifth Estate, The Imitation Game promises to be a true nail-biter of a drama. In a way, Sherlock might just be what Benny does ‘for fun’.
Why make a film about Alan Turing? His isn’t a name people in North America or other parts of the world are likely to be familiar with. In the UK, the chances are greater. On a pub quiz team, it is useful to know this man was a gifted cryptologist and during World War II, his and his team’s ability to decipher key messages transmitted by German forces, especially the Navy, and intercepted by the Allies was considered instrumental in bringing about the end of the war in Europe.
Messages were transmitted in an incredibly complex code called Enigma (getting more complicated as the war years went by), and the typewriter-looking device that was used to communicate between German forces was called the Enigma machine. For reference, the ITV television series The Bletchley Circle (broadcast on PBS in North America and on ABC in Australia) is named for the place in which the codebreaking work was done and where the female characters used to work during the war: Bletchley Park, 50 miles outside London. These were not dabblers in secret; these were mathematicians, logicians, early computer scientists; these were people doing important work and the threat of invasion was real.
This trailer for The Imitation Game, as the last one did as well, shows Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing administering decryption tests on potential new recruits for the work at Bletchley, Keira Knightley plays one such recruit, a successful one, no less. There are also scenes in what are likely to be MI-6 offices and at Bletchley Park itself. Turing does not seem to be a ‘people person’, but that’s not why he was hired.
Downton Abbey‘s Allen Leech also plays a member of the team, and Charles Dance, Mark Strong, and Matthew Goode round out the top-billed cast.
It must also be said that the trailer doesn’t only focus on the scientist but also alludes to the man, the homosexual man, in a time when sex between men was considered a criminal act under the law. I don’t know at what point of Turing’s life the film ends, but his sexual orientation might not be brought up blithely – in both trailers. Turing was prosecuted under those “gross indecency” laws and found guilty in 1952. Choosing chemical castration over a prison term, it is believed this unnatural chemical imbalance may have played a part in his decision to commit suicide in 1954. He was 41 years old.
The Imitation Game opens on November 14 in the UK, on the 21st in North America, and has been chosen as the opening night film of the BFI London Film Festival starting next Wednesday, October 8.
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