The Imitation Game ★★½

The Imitation Game plays like the polite dinner conversation at a party, before drinks have been served to loosen everybody up. It's so mannered and inoffensive that it seems to come at us from the chamber of a prettily-furnished snow globe.

It's a biopic that chronicles three interwoven periods in the life of mathematician Alan Turing, a solitary introvert who developed a machine that deciphered codes the Nazis used to deliver tactical messages during WW2. A latent homosexual, the film explores Turing's difficult and ultimately failed efforts to reconcile his nature with societal pressures to lead a conventional life.

Taken from a screenplay by Graham Moore, which topped the 2011 Black List, The Imitation Game does not measure up to the profundity of its material. In an attempt to cater to everyone, the film reaches for no-one in particular. If it was a woman she'd be in a full-length gown buttoned up to the neck, sipping tea in a pavilion somewhere, talking very drearily about something pretty interesting. Substituting for depth and the gritty truth are eloquent turns of phrase and a nostalgic ambience.

Moore's buttery screenplay is self-impressed and prone to occasional hysteria. The line, 'Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,' is apparently so beautiful it's repeated in all three interwoven stories. A scene where Cumberbatch awkwardly proposes to Knightley is cutesy and insincere. The actors might as well be holding up a sign that says ISN'T THIS DELIGHTFUL! There are also some incredibly sloppy cues in the narrative; in one scene Cumberbatch discovers the identity of a Soviet spy by finding the Bible sitting on a colleague's desk - conveniently earmarked with the exact passage he knows was used to encrypt the message for the Soviets.

Despite all this, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley give appealing performances - but it's Alex Lawther as the young Alan Turing who steals the show with one heartbreakingly honest closeup near the end. The Imitation Game is pleasant enough as a piece of literate artifice. The problem with the movie is that it has dishonoured its subject matter by distorting it with an Oscar-grade glossiness that the film's themes and performances resist but fail to overcome. I came out of the cinema curious about the real Turing, and disappointed that his story had been pilloried in this way. There's an interesting movie here somewhere, underneath all the tinsel.

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