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During the Second World War, the Germans devised an ingenious encryption machine to transmit messages. Aptly called Enigma, its codes changed daily, making it veritably impossible to crack. But the young British genius that accomplished the feat changed the course of history by enabling the Allies to intercept Nazi transmissions, thereby shortening the war by an estimated two years and saving 14 million lives. His name was Alan Turing, and his life and work is the subject of The Imitation Game, which arrives in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day.

The Imitation GameBenedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) brilliantly plays the driven, complicated, and enigmatic outsider Turing, heading an all-star cast of U.K. actors that includes Keira Knightley (Atonement), Matthew Goode (The Good Wife), Allen Leech (Downton Abbey), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), and Mark Strong (Prime Suspect). Cumberbatch was Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s first and only choice for the role.

“There are not many people who can portray a genius and for it to become believable,” Tyldum says. “Luckily, he read the script and was also very passionate about it. I think Benedict has that mix of sensitivity and strength, and you one hundred percent believe that this man is capable of generating these big ideas.”

For Screenwriter Graham Moore, "Benedict coming on board felt like winning the lottery, and he is in almost every frame of this movie. There are very few actors in the world that can handle a part like that,” he says. “Benedict doesn't just convey the intelligence of Alan Turing, he embodies it. His level of devotion to this character is at a level of devotion that would rival Alan Turing himself.” The Imitation Game

As the film also depicts, Turing was also a closeted gay man living in fear of being exposed, at a time when homosexuality was a punishable offense. He heartbreakingly paid the price when he was convicted of gross indecency after he helped the allies win the war, and was forced to take estrogen as a chemical “cure.” In 1954, he committed suicide with a cyanide-laced apple, at the surprisingly young age of 41, given his remarkable achievments.

Curiosity about this remarkable mystery man, who accomplished so much and got so little recognition, spurred the interest of producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky. While randomly Web-surfing five years ago, the pair came across a story about Turing. That prompted them to learn more, and then to option Andrew Hodges’ biography Turing: The Enigma. With writer Moore on board, they developed the script over a period of a year.  Then they got a huge break, when in 2011 it landed at the top of The Blacklist, a list of Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays. After that, other elements fell into place; financial partner Teddy Schwarzman, and the director and cast.

Tyldum also notes he got his first pick for every role, including Knightley’s Joan Clarke, Turing’s colleague and friend. "She brought so much power, but also vulnerability to the character,” he says. “She steals the scenes she's in. She’s able to portray someone who is as capable and intelligent as Turing himself. There's such a great chemistry between them.” The Imitation GameThe Imitation Game

Shooting on a brisk eight-week schedule last year, The Imitation Game was filmed on several locations in London, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Dorset, England, and also including a Victorian mansion which was the former home of author and naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming, and a former RAF base. Sherborne, the school Turing attended, and where his friend Christopher introduced him to cryptography, is seen in flashbacks, and many scenes were shot at the real Bletchley Park, the top secret headquarters of the Government Code and Cypher School, where much of the story takes place. 

“We were very privileged to have a two-and-a-half week rehearsal period that afforded us a great opportunity to get together and discuss all the research we’d done separately about our characters, and begin to create them. We did so much groundwork that we could hit the ground running--so important on a very tight shoot,” says Allen Leech.

Director Tyldum credits his cast’s talent, preparedness and generosity for making his job easier. “They supported each other,” he says. “Even if they were not on camera they were there off camera, helping each other out. It was fall in Britain and it was cold, but the morale was high and everybody was giving everything, so prepared. That was the only way we could do it in eight weeks.” The Imitation Game

The filmmakers endeavored to be as accurate as possible, in terms of the history, sets, props and wardrobe. Turing’s ‘Bombe’ decoding machine, nicknamed Christopher, had to look right and be operational. The clothes in many cases are actual wartime items with CC41 (Controlled Commodity) ration labels sewn in.  Notes Tyldum, “The Enigma machine you see in the movie is the actual Enigma machine used in the war by the Nazis! The crossword puzzle is the actual puzzle that Turing made, and put it in the [London] Times to recruit people for MI6,”. The Imitation Game

Although there were letters Turing wrote during a life-long correspondence with his friend Christopher’s mother that provided invaluable insight, the film makers had to work hard to fill in other blanks on the historical side. Moore says, “We don’t have a lot of records. The bonfire you see in the film is real,” adding that “Bletchley Park and what happened there ‘was so top secret no one could talk about it for decades.’”

Now that it can be discussed, Tyldum hopes that The Imitation Game will bring Turing the credit he deserves. “As Winston Churchill said, Alan Turing’s is the single most important achievement of the Second World War. It was so important to me to make a movie that celebrated his life and achievements, but also celebrated the outsider, and we wanted it to be funny and thrilling and engaging,” he says, saying “a war movie, thriller, love story--we wanted it to have all these elements.”

Mission accomplished.

Don’t miss these super-talented actors, who will be bringing events that actually happened only a half-century ago back to life- with the creation of a single weapon that allowed Britain, and its allies including the USA,  to triumph in the Second World War. Opening wide on Christmas Day, December 25, 2014. Check your local listings!

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 165 - September 2018
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