It seems fitting that Benedict Cumberbatch, now famous for sleuthing as Sherlock Holmes, should star here in a film about another type of sleuth entirely – brilliant mathematician Alan Turing who worked tirelessly to break the code of Germany’s Enigma machines.
This handsome and beautifully-acted film slowly builds up a picture of Turing the man; odd, awkward, bullied at school, but possessed of an enquiring mind and mathematical ability that made him uniquely suited to the job at hand — solving the riddle of Enigma, the German encryption that was keeping the Allies one step behind in the Second World War.
Today, he would probably be diagnosed as autistic; in his own day he was seen as eccentric and Cumberbatch plays him as a man who doesn’t give a damn about what other people think of him as he is on a mission, hell bent on building a highly complicated machine capable of making thousands more calculations a day than any human ever could. In short, one of the world’s first computers.
Turing landed a job at secretive Bletchley Park and became the leader of a ragtag team of other gifted men and women all working to the same end, including Joan (Keira Knightley) who became something of a good luck mascot for him. But there was one aspect of his personal life Turing kept hidden even from Joan, and that was his homosexuality.
The film begins and ends with scenes set after the war, when he is being interrogated (by a very good Rory Kinnear) about his homosexual activities – then still illegal. The main part of the film (Turing’s work at Bletchley) is seen in a long flashback sequence. This is a great shame as although what happened to Turing in later life was terribly tragic, the heart of the story belongs in the cramped hut at Bletchley where he toiled day and night to break the code.
There is fantastic support in the shape of Charles Dance, who oversees the whole project (and wants to close Turing’s machine down), Mark Strong as the spy master keeping a watchful eye on everything that comes in and goes out of the facility, and Matthew Goode as a fellow mathematician.
But it is Cumberbatch who owns this film; intent and intense, bewildered by even the most basic of social mores and manners and utterly committed to his cause – so in a way, not unlike Sherlock Holmes.
He is by turns abrasive, charmingly naïve and unwittingly funny and is the main focus of nearly every scene in the movie. Expect him to get a Best Actor BAFTA nomination at least this year.