Benedict Cumberbatch stars as brilliant Cambridge mathematician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, who spearheaded the Enigma code-breaking operation during World War II and was later persecuted by the British government for his homosexuality.
One of the greatest stories of our time began back in the darkest days of the Second World War. Alan Turing was a brilliant Cambridge mathematician hired by the British military to break Nazi codes. His work leading a group of misfit geniuses didn't only shorten the war, it pushed technology to the point where computers could be imagined. But Turing paid a price.
At Cambridge University, the young Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) quickly establishes himself as a groundbreaking thinker with his theories about the potential of computing machines. When war between Britain and Germany is declared, these theories are put into active practice. Turing easily passes a test to become a member of a top-secret group assigned to decode critical German naval communications. Much to the surprise of the commanding officers, so does a woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley also appearing at the Festival in Laggies). Turing and Clarke become fast friends, and are soon engaged to be married. But Turing is gay, struggling with his identity at a time when it is illegal and subject to terrible punishment.
Cumberbatch plays Turing as a mercurial character, unafraid of his quirks and brashly proud of his intellect. Knightley's Clarke is his equal — for all his insight into the workings of consciousness, she may understand him better than he does himself. The meeting of their minds doesn't result in a conventional love story, but The Imitation Game does chronicle a remarkable relationship.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum's Headhunters played the Festival in 2011 and won attention for its gripping pace and neat balance of suspense and character work. In his English-language debut, Tyldum excels again. Turing and his colleagues race against time to devise a machine that can crack Germany's Enigma codes, while Turing himself must work out how to be a gay man at a time when such men are routinely crushed by the law. It's an intensely powerful story. I spoke with Benedict while he was in Toronto to discuss his challenging role in, The Imitation Game.