Oh god. If The Theory of Everything was bland then The Imitation Game is absolutely ghastly. Working with what is arguably a more compelling story, save that the central character’s failings are less conspicuous, it pours a high-gloss movie sheen over everything which almost completely obscures anything which might have been interesting about its central character or the events of his life.

The life of Turing is a bit easier to attack than the life of Hawking, from a structural point of view at least. Almost everything he did which is of interest to modern-day movie-goers, he did at Bletchley Park between 1939 and 1945, save for his prosecution for homosexuality in 1952 (or as the movie insists, 1951) and later suicide. Shamelessly ripping-off the excellent play and TV film Breaking the Code, with Derek Jacobi as Turing (both works cite Andrew Hodges’ book Alan Turing: The Enigma as a source but the new film doesn’t give playwright Hugh Whitemore even a sniff of a mention), the movie hops distractedly about through the same three different time zones (or four if you count the clunkingly melodramatic voice-over which keeps duplicating information given in dialogue) – Turing’s school days, his time at Bletchley and his investigation by Rory Kinnear’s honest Manchester copper.

Whereas Everything simply pretended that Hawking wasn’t a scientist at all for much of its running time, Imitation attempts to put Turing’s cryptanalysis front-and-centre but the rendition is laughably simplified to the point of near total ridicule. Knowing nothing about Turing’s life, a new viewer might conclude that he recruited young men and women who were crossword puzzle geniuses so that they could stand idly by and watch him build a code-cracking machine unaided which simple arithmetic would tell him is incapable or working fast enough to sort through all the possible combinations of German ciphers before they change them the next morning, but which he runs futilely every day until he is told for the second time that the Germans have a tendency to send similar messages on different days, whereupon the machine starts working and from that moment on decrypts all German coded messages without further intervention. Not only is none of that true, but most of it is absurd on its face.

Sitting at the centre of this mess is poor Benedict Cumberbatch, trying very hard to make sure no-one mistakes Turing for Sherlock. He certainly tries, giving donnish Turing a high, reedy voice with a slight lisp and none of Holmes’ demented swagger. It’s an attempt which is doomed to failure however, since the screenplay is so utterly determined to turn him into Sherlock in any case – historical veracity and internal logic be damned.

The supporting cast also show the same kind of bold outlines, bright colours and total lack of grace and subtlety, like that awful cartoon version of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings books on TV recently. Leading the way is the film’s sort-of love interest in the spindly form of Keira Knightley (fine) who solves Turing’s crossword puzzle test in three quarters of the time it takes him (why?), but thereafter restricts her involvement in the great work to being a winsome sounding board for the Eccentric Genius and having a vaguely unlikely (but possibly true) blasé attitude towards her fiancé’s homosexuality. Elsewhere, Graham Moore’s clunking screenplay manufactures a ridiculously blinkered baddie out of Cdr Denniston (whom Charles Dance somehow manages to play with a straight face), a smooth ally in Mark Strong’s General Menzies and a nice turn from Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander.

For reasons which pass all understanding, the movie also finds it necessary to parachute in Soviet spy John Caincross as one of Turing’s colleagues, despite the fact that there is no evidence the two men ever met at Bletchley Park or anywhere else. But when we’re this far adrift from history – Christ, who cares anyway?

Look, I’m not saying that director Morten Tyldum should have made a documentary instead. Artistic licence is fair enough, and when it comes to biopics, I’m usually the first to say – more story and less Wikipedia-style recitation of facts please. One of the few scenes with any power at all is the dramatisation of the so-called Coventry Conundrum. In the movie, almost as soon as the first communications are successfully decrypted, our team of puzzlers can see from the positions of German U-boats that an Allied passenger convoy is in danger of attack. Before they can call this information in so that a warning can be issued, Turing stops them – pointing out that being able to break the enemy’s code is only valuable so long as they don’t know you’re doing it. Now, obviously, far more time would elapse before this dilemma was faced, and obviously decisions like this would be taken at a much higher level, but I don’t object to a movie condensing time and place and character like this, if the essential truth of the story is maintained (or, I suppose, if the false story is a helluvalot better than reality). This scene only dies a death ultimately because of the crass decision to have the youngest member of the team realise that – in a stunning coincidence – his brother is on that convoy, and start to blub. And thus a vital insight into the role of the code-breakers is reduced to maudlin and unlikely soap opera.

So I will take The Imitation Game to task for its lack of historical veracity, not because historical veracity is inherently a good thing, but because in this case the truth is far more interesting than the superficial nonsense paraded before us here. The film would have us believe that cracking the Enigma code was the work of one man, who in turn outsourced it to a prodigious machine which was the forerunner of the modern computer, and that the code when cracked required nothing more than the mechanical operation of the said computer. In fact, continuing to be able to interpret German messages was a laborious and on-going process which continued throughout the war, aided by Turing’s “bombe” machine (which he never called “Christopher” for fuck’s sake) and by other similar machines, including the Colossus which was the forerunner of the modern computer, but which Turing had nothing to do with.

The film would also have us believe that one genius was able to crack the Enigma machine, but actually in most respects the Enigma is a near-perfect encryption device, if used properly. The story of the defeat of Enigma is actually a rather more human story of operator error. Had the Germans been more aware of cryptanalysis, better trained or more disciplined, Bletchley Park would likely not have succeeded in deciphering their messages, machine or no machine. And that’s before we stop to acknowledge the Allied spies who managed to get a working Enigma machine back to Britain, without which Turing and co would simply have not known where to begin.

But none of this is of interest to Tyldum, Moore and co, who refuse to engage in any meaningful way with what Turing and co were actually doing, who let repeated platitudes sit where a theme should be, test our patience with five montage sequences (all on-the-cheap CGI unwisely mixed it with grainy newsreel footage), drown the worst of the dialogue with Alexandre Desplat’s sickly generic music, hope that the charm of the cast and their ersatz Richard Curtis-esque glib one-liners will carry us over the finish line, and if not, there’s always the sombre note of historical significance to give it a light seasoning of faux-profundity. How we laughed all the way to Awards Season. At this point I can’t even be bothered to be annoyed at the fact that the young cast don’t know how to pronounce “Euler” (possibly forgivable) or “ensign” (have they never watched Star Trek?), or that Turing’s school mathematics teacher stops in mid-proof (virtually mid-sentence) for the end, not just of the school day, but of the term.

The film can’t bring itself to depict Turing’s suicide, although Turing giving his team apples may be an allusion to his probable method of despatch. This scene is possibly the most outright ridiculous, where Turing – like an alien in a bad episode of Star Trek – asks Joan “what is ‘friend’?” and after she tries to explain, he awkwardly brings everyone apples and tells them a sort-of joke. Then they all stop despising and resenting him and start sticking up for him instead. Like you would. And we end with a reminder that Turing was pardoned in 2013 – a well-meaning gesture which had the unfortunate consequence of tacitly endorsing the thousands of other prosecutions for homosexuality in Britain.

Quite what the bloody hell this slack, lazy, syrupy, nonsensical farce of a movie is doing earning a nomination for Best Picture is anyone’s guess, but the nominations for Best Director and in particular Best Adapted Screenplay are completely ridiculous. The attempt to try and tie together Turing’s private life, mathematical game-playing, success as a cryptographer, philosophiser of mind and father of modern computing, while simultaneously devoting most of the running time to intrigue in Hut 8, was probably doomed to failure before it was even begun, even given that Breaking the Code had already done a pretty admirable job. Turing’s concept of a Universal Engine predated his work at Bletchely Park and the two have little to do with each other. His notion of the Turing Test, adapted from a party game called The Imitation Game, came after. This boring film has no room for either. It believes that it is comparing Turing’s keeping of secrets to The Imitation Game, but in the first place, this is an inapt comparison and in the second place, how could the naive audience member that the film is clearly aimed at be expected to work this out, given that the film never once tells us what The Imitation Game actually is.

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