The Imitation Game is this year's The King's Speech. Even though it isn't nearly as good as Tom Hooper's Oscar-triumph, there are significant similarities: both films are based on a true story, are set on British soil during the war, star a famous Brit as a socially awkward lead with a stammer and feature a bombastic score composed by Alexandre Desplat. The result is an enjoyable, if ordinary, biopic about the extraordinary Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), one of the great minds of the twentieth century.
The story cuts back and forth between three time frames. There are some unnecessary flashbacks showing Turing as a schoolboy, already an exceptionally gifted outsider with only one friend. We also see him in the early 50s, when he was forced to undergo hormonal treatment after being exposed as a homosexual. The bulk of the movie is however taken up by Turing's wartime exploits, when he and his team of mathematicians and analysts achieved the seemingly impossible: they deciphered the German enigma code (a feat that significantly shortened the war and saved millions of lives) thanks to an early computer.
At one point, Turing says: "People think of the war as this epic battle between civilisations - it wasn't like that for us." He spent the war brooding over a puzzle in a small warehouse near Manchester. As a consequence, The Imitation Game is a character driven drama. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an excellent performance in this role. He portrays a man who is very much in the closet (not only about his sexuality): he never seems comfortable in his own skin, avoids eye contact, but still manages to convey the character's arrogance and confidence in his abilities. He builds an intense platonic relationship with Keira Knighley, whom I have criticised in the past and probably will continue to do so in the future. Matthew Goode, Charles Dance and Mark Strong (sporting an epic comb over) meanwhile round of the strong cast by delivering convincing supporting turns.
Any rough edges to the characters or narrative have however been smoothed over in order to maximise the film's emotional impact and make it accessible to a mass audience. Politics are largely forgone; even the prosecution of homosexuals by the British government seems like an afterthought. Director Morten Tyldum (Scandi-noir thriller Headhunters) talks about celebrating uniqueness, about outsiders who are different, who think outside the norm. His film is watchable and moving (in large parts due to the strength of Cumberbatch's performance), but also emotionally manipulative and utterly conventional. And it doesn't quite have the warmth, the humour or the filmmaking skills of The King's Speech to make up for these flaws.