Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) headed the team that was brought together at Bletchley Park and assigned the task of deciphering the Nazis’ ‘Enigma Code’.
Their achievement was arguably the most significant if unheralded triumph of WWII.
In a flashback to his schooldays, the young Turing is being introduced to cryptology by his dearest mate.
‘What’s the difference between that and just talking?’ he asks.
It’s a brilliant line that underpins all that happens in Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s gripping and ultimately tragic film.
The question of communication – of interpreting beyond what is on the surface – comes to the boil in a bar when Turing’s associate, Alexander (Matthew Goode) picks up a girl (and vice versa) through the process of unspoken but understood messaging.
From this chance encounter, Turing is led to his eurika! moment, and in a scene as thrilling as any you might see.
Tyldum, who came to notice with the Scandi-noir classic ‘Headhunters’ (2011), pulls a remarkably subtle sleight of hand by first drawing us into a tightly scripted but otherwise conventional mystery, with Turing the brilliant outsider struggling to pursue his goal against the tide of both officialdom and his contemporaries’ hostility, before delving into sexual politics and what it truly means to make one’s way in an alien environment.
Cumberbatch – perhaps channeling Derek Jacobi, who played Turing on stage (Breaking the Code) – gives an intense and thoroughly empathetic performance as a man both socially inept and self-absorbed, and he is aided and abetted by a superb support cast.
Keira Knightley, as a proto-feminist, continues to grow in stature, Charles Dance and Mark Strong represent the Establishment as though they were born to it, Goode is, as usual, suitably toffee-nosed, and Alex Lawther as Turing the boy almost steals the show in one heartbreaking scene.
Augmented by dramatic archival footage, the period is convincingly created and Alexandre Desplat’s precise and hypnotic score pushes the drama into a rhythmic realm perfectly suited to the computerised world envisaged by Turing.
~ John Campbell