The Imitation Game is the story of the brilliant mathematician who broke the Enigma code during World War II. I hesitated going to see it because I was such a fan of Breaking the Code (BBC, 1996). Putting aside the fact the Derek Jacobi was in his mid-50s when playing Alan Turing (in his late 20s), this earlier Turing bio pic impacted me in such a way 19 years later, I still remember it.
I was afraid that seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing would spoil my memory of Jacobi’s performance. When I mentioned this to a friend, he pointed out that each actor would bring their own unique style to a story based on historical events. As it turns out, he was right.
Both movies share several similarities: based on the book, Alan Turing – the Enigma; divided into three significant periods of Turing’s life; and portrayed the essence of this complex person as an individual more comfortable around machines than human beings. Where they differ is in their focus. The Imitation Game centres on Turing’s time at Bletchley Park and his difficulty in getting what he needs from the powers that be to get the job done, while Breaking the Code emphasizes Turing’s ideas and thought processes.
Although I can’t help note what I see as The Imitation Game’s fatal flaw: an overall twenty-first century sensibility. Specifically the interpretation of Joan Clarke (fictionalized name Pat Green in the 1996 film) as a young woman in the 1930s and the role she played at Bletchley seemed too modern. For me Breaking the Code better recreated the issues of Alan Turing’s world – his genius, his homosexuality and his secrets, both military and personal.
I did end up liking The Imitation Game. What made it so enjoyable was the undeniable chemistry between Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), adding charm and humour to an intense story that mostly takes place during war time. But the “winner” of my affections remains Breaking the Code, a powerful portrayal of how society likes the benefits of geniuses but can’t seem to make a place for them amongst us.