As the 54th BFI London Film Festival kicks-off the weather might be predictably dreary, but Clare Stewart, festival director, has lined-up an eclectic mix of films that make visiting the cinema – if you’re in London – a necessity.
The festival’s opening film is the UK/USA production, Imitation Game (Tyldum, 2014) and Stewart and her team of film programmers have picked a corker to open this year’s festival.
Imitation Game is a biopic about the life of Alan Turing; the British mathematician and cryptanalyst whose innovative machine (Christopher) broke the German Enigma code and helped to save millions of lives. The film focuses upon three specific points in Turing’s life: a founding friendship at school with a boy named Christopher; WW2 itself i.e. how Turing came to be involved in the top-secret, government project to decrypt the ‘unbreakable’ code; and finally, Turing’s arrest for indecency in the ‘50s – Turing’s only crime being gay and performing an ‘indecent’ act in public.
Playing Turing, is Benedict Cumberbatch and his casting must have been an absolute ‘no-brainer’ – there’s an undeniable similarity between Turing and the fictional, Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch’s performance is subtle and while other actors might try to dominate the screen, Cumberbatch doesn’t need to – your eyes are effortlessly drawn to his nuanced, generous and un-showy performance.
Turing is portrayed as a complex individual, a man clearly on the autistic spectrum, with all the usual traits associated with Asperger’s syndrome. But never does this alone define him, nor does his sexuality – like any human being, he is a mixture of complex qualities and that is how he is depicted.
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Cumberbatch is superb but he also has an outstanding assemble cast to support and enhance his central performance. Those along for the ride include: Charles Dance; Mark Strong; Rory Kinnear; Matthew Goode; and Keira Knightly. Everyone plays their part well and no one drops the ball – not even the tiresome Knightly!
Graham Moore deserves a great deal of credit for the film’s success. His script jumps effortlessly through time and while the Turing teenage years aren’t strictly necessary, they’re far from redundant, even managing to enhance our understanding of the man. Also, this script is far funnier than it has any right to be, it’s often very witty – something I didn’t expect. The early scenes between Cumberbatch and Charles Dance are particularly humorous and beautifully scripted. Clearly both actors relished the opportunity to work together, although in one scene, Dance does appear to be doing a misjudged impression of Alan Sugar, which is a little distracting.
Mortem Tyldum, the director behind Headhunters (Tyldum, 2011) has done a sterling job here, quite literally aligning all of the stars. Simply put, this is a gala production with outstanding performances from all involved, and plainly, the future for Mr. Cumberbatch, is very bright.
The BFI London Film Festival is running from Wednesday, October 8 until Sunday, October 19 2014.