Film News South Africa

Masterful Imitation Game

The not-to-be-missed The Imitation Game is an intense and haunting portrayal of a brilliant, complicated man, and follows a genius who under nail-biting pressure helped to shorten the war and, in turn, save thousands of lives.

Featuring a captivating performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured gay mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing, Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum's gripping story scripted by New York Times bestselling author Graham Moore is one that will change your worldview.

It's the unforgettable story of a man whose passion was devoured by his passionate secret; a tragic tale set in 1952 when British authorities entered Turing's home to investigate a reported burglary and ended up arresting Turing himself on charges of 'gross indecency', an accusation that would lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offence of homosexuality - little did officials know, they were actually incriminating the pioneer of modern-day computing.

Famously leading a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, he was credited with cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma machine.

Masterful Imitation Game

Inspired television movie

Turing life also inspired the 1996 television movie Breaking the Code; A musical work inspired by Turing's life, written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, entitled A Man from the Future, was performed by the Pet Shop Boys and Juliet Stevenson (narrator), the BBC Singers, and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Dominic Wheeler at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall on 23 July, 2014. Codebreaker is also the title of a choral work by the composer James McCarthy and includes settings of texts by the poets Wilfred Owen, Sara Teasdale, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde and Robert Burns, which are used to illustrate aspects of Turing's life and premiered on 26 April, 2014, at the Barbican Centre, London.

The incredibly true, yet largely unknown, story of British cryptanalyst Alan Turing spread like wildfire among the Hollywood community in December, 2011. It was then that Graham Moore's nascent screenplay illuminating Turing's life was placed first on the legendary Black List - Hollywood executives' ranking of the most-liked yet still unproduced screenplays.

Masterful Imitation Game

Hooked at first read

Teddy Schwarzman, head of film production and financing company Black Bear Pictures, was hooked at first read. "It was a real page-turner, but so dense, so rich with historical significance, with a riveting, misunderstood protagonist. It was a script where you very clearly saw the movie and it was written in a very intelligent way, with highly stylised dialogue, but never putting anything at the forefront other than the characters." Schwarzman knew it would fit perfectly into Black Bear's canon.

The script's inception had a richer history than many knew. In late 2009, Bristol Automotive producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky caught a news report of a speech by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, apologising on behalf of the British Government for the treatment of Alan Turing after World War II. Not familiar with Turing's story, they researched and discovered an extraordinary life unknown to most people, particularly in the US. They immediately optioned Andrew Hodges' Turing biography and were discussing it at a party, where the guests included Graham Moore. The young novelist professed his love for Turing and the trio hatched a plan for a script. The title of a post-war paper Turing wrote served as Moore's inspiration. It detailed a method Turing invented to determine whether something is a machine or a real person; a test of sorts, but, to Turing, a game - The Imitation Game.

The fall of 2012 found Grossman and Ostrowsky seeking a new home for the project after a possible studio collaboration. Amidst a pack of suitors, the team met Schwarzman and a partnership was expeditiously born. Schwarzman, Grossman, Ostrowsky and Moore found that they very much wanted to tell the same story the same way, paying homage to an extraordinary life while honouring the tale's most challenging and unique elements.

"It's an amazing life story," marvels Moore. "It's one of those which, if you'd made it up, wouldn't have been believable: that one person lived through so many dramatic things, that one person is a genius, a war hero, invented the computer, was prosecuted by the government for homosexuality and committed suicide - it's all these movies in one. It's shocking that it's true."

Despite the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Turing's life, the team all identified a personal admiration for and connection to his story.

Masterful Imitation Game

A story that the world needed to hear

Schwarzman shares Moore's enthusiasm: "It's a story that the world needed to hear. The Poles and Brits had worked on breaking the code for years and hadn't made sufficient progress, so to have a professor walk in to Bletchley Park with no real training and find a way to solve an impossible problem, is just riveting. I wanted people to know what Turing had accomplished before, during and after his time at Bletchley Park. He was embraced for his uniqueness and in the process, saved countless lives.

Moore was taken by Turing's work - and the tremendous breadth of his devotees. He recalls: "When I was a teenager, I was massively into computer science. I went to computer camp. I was really into programming and, among computer science folks, Turing is this object of cult-like fascination. Because he was this unheralded early inventor of the computer, to whom history hadn't done justice, he was always talked about, from the Steve Jobs' and the Bill Gates' of this world, right down to little teenage me. I feel that this film is the most important thing I will ever be a part of. I don't know that I will get to do anything I love so much ever again, but I'm very glad I got to do it this time."

For director Tyldum it was essential staying true to Alan's iconoclastic roots in bringing The Imitation Game to the screen. "It's a very important story that's a tribute to being different and how essential it is to have people who think differently, not following a norm, in society," says Tyldum. "Turing faced a great injustice, but never compromised his ideals. And the world is better because of his bravery."

Tyldum saw a bit of that outsider status in his own role and wanted to use his non-British heritage to the film's advantage. "I think it's good to have an outside view of it, as it naturally leads to an emphasis on the universal elements of the story. This was a special time in British history, make no mistake. But these ideas of Alan's, they were so much bigger than the time and the war. So, I think this movie is more than just a period drama. It's much bigger and much more important than that."

Alan Turing's story made a deep and lasting impression on the director, producers, cast and crew and Benedict Cumberbatch relished the opportunity to walk in the great man's shoes.

"Filming at Bletchley Park was extraordinary - just to be on those grounds and walking across those lawns and under those trees which were there before they were and will be there long after us. It's such an important part of our history and our secret history, and there were those moments when you'd think there was something rather ghostly about what we were doing."

Tragic endings

Graham Moore sums up the feelings of all involved: "The story of Alan Turing came to a very tragic end, but we wanted to make a film that was a celebration of him and of his life, as well as his work. I hope this film will bring people close to a difficult and complicated figure, which they would not otherwise have been able to do. He's unlike anyone any of us will have ever known and it was always my goal to make the audience feel close to him, to put them inside his head, into his experiences. I hope that they will look up at the screen and feel that they understand this person, who is very removed from them in history, in time and place - and that they get a sense of what a tremendous human being he was."

The Imitation Game is one of those rare films you simply cannot miss. It will touch you deeply and its emotional journey is one that will live long in your heart after watching the film.

I found a new hero in Alan Turing and salute the filmmakers, cast and crew for bringing this extraordinary film into our lives.

Read more about The Imitation Game and other new films opening this week at

About Daniel Dercksen

Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit
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