Dec

5

 Benedict Cumberbatch has an astringent face — high-planed cheeks, small eyes, soft small mouth — one that seems particularly English. His ascetic, near-obnoxious imperviousness fits well with the part he plays in Imitation Game.. Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the flinty British mathematician, logician, cryptologist, and paradigmatic pre-computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that turned the tide for the Allies during WWII.

Other films have related this history with varying degrees of accuracy and interest, but this iteration seems for many reasons to be most compelling; and even if some celluloid has been given to the subject heretofore, millions still have no idea of the remarkable efforts that went into deciphering the "unbreakable" Enigma machine that transmitted orders to the German juggernaut, submarines and air fleet, over the deadly years of the war.

Part of the joy of viewing this film is its female star, Keira Knightley, who redeems her peculiar performance in that recent film, A Dangerous Method (2011), where her facial contortions made her unwatchable. In Imitation, Knightley plays the brilliant Joan Clarke, who fights to work amongst the male cryptographers despite the glaring sexism prevalent in 1940s England, both in the country at large and especially among the tight knot of top secret scientist-geeks working at Bletchley. Clarke's proficiency at solving crossword puzzles faster than Turing himself won her a coveted spot among the decoders at Bletchley. Bletchley Park, in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was the central site of the United Kingdom's Government Code and Cypher School, which during the Second World War penetrated the secret codes of what our Mancunian forebears used to shorthand as "the Gerries."

Dozens of dedicated and talented women, too, worked at decoding and message interception at Bletchley, but this film addresses Turing and his small crew of decoders.

Although Turing is clearly not inclined toward females (or even toward his coworkers, as he shows through scenes of aristocratic arrogance), he gets along splendidly with Ms. Clarke, and his team endures considerable scathe and opprobrium from their uppers, especially Charles Dance as skeptical Commander Denniston. The effort to decrypt the Enigma stalled for months, no matter what Turing and co. tried on Turing's ingenious "Christopher" simulacrum of a decoder. Naturally, there is also a spy in the works.

Turing was, of course, the precursor of, and father to, today's computers. Early computers were tagged, in fact, "Turing machines."

Another pleasure was the quaint environs of Manchester, this reviewer's natal home, and the Brideshead Revisited atmosphere pervading the goings-on. Scientists on bicycles and cobblestoned streets, richly captured and photographed, are charming reminders of past efforts in the field, preceding the grungy garages of the recent past, and sleek labs of today.

We all know the outcome of the war: We speak English, Jews still live in the world, and few kids are named Adolf. But the tension and suspense inherent in this race against time and destruction of villages and continents holds us tightly in its unrelenting grip.

Although Turing then worked on the development of computers at the University of Manchester after these events, he was hounded by the UK government for then-illegal acts deemed "unnatural." He ended his life at a terribly early age, losing the world his huge potential genius to the morality police of the time. His indefatigable efforts to defeat the Enigma was kept secret by the British government for over 50 years. It is estimated the group effort saved 20 million lives.

We remember well how Harvey Weinstein stood downstairs at the Walter Reade Theatre after the Film Festival screened the ebullient silent black-and-white experiment, The Artist. Weinstein knew he had a winner when everyone exiting the theatre bore a huge grin and fairly floated out of their seats, a nimbus of pleasure wreathing their faces. With Imitation Game, history has been served, audiences are piqued and pleased
– and Harvey scores another bulls-eye.

Crossword-puzzle enthusiasts, there is hope for you, yet.


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