While Hawking is one of the most celebrated scientists in modern times, Turing was one of the most wronged by the world he helped to better. There have been many depictions of his life, from award winning plays (Breaking the Code), documentaries, to other biopics. There are even derivative works like The Bletchley Circle now coming about since the declassification of the work he spearheaded. There are awards in his name and even postage stamps with his image. But during his life, he was a tortured, if brilliant, soul. Where Hawking is so comfortable with who he is that even when his body failed him, he transcended that event and continued on, Turing was so uncomfortable that he isolated himself and grew more attached to his electronics than to people (in this depiction, at least).
Cumberbatch (Sherlock), much like Redmayne’s Hawking, provides a bravura performance. He shows many facets of Turning within the framework of the story, from his arrogance, to his quizzical inability to understand people, to his vulnerability and fear. It is a roller-coaster of a performance set against the huge backdrop and tension of WWII.
And that is probably the rub in this film. While beautifully crafted visually, and edited well to cover time, it has too many aspects to focus on and explain. We lose Turing somewhere in all that chaos; his story becomes secondary rather than primary. Unlike Theory of Everything, there were directly related, real-world events outside of the biographical focus on Turing that took precedence, and still do.
The script attempts to make this very complex story revolve around secrets: their value and harm. It doesn’t quite work. What we get instead is a view of his life and some sense of who he was and the absurdities of the society he grew up in; a society that couldn’t recognize the intelligence of women nor the person outside of their sexual preference. It is still shocking to realize how long those attitudes and laws were still in force (and still linger even today). Pride, set thirty years past the end of this film, shows the ongoing struggle even at that time (thirty years in our rear-view, where struggles are still happening today).
I would have liked to have seen a more interesting take on Turing’s tale, one I hadn’t really seen before. The framing and the plot just didn’t do more than frustrate me rather than bring me into sympathy or make me feel like there was something I could do. That can be valuable, but with such a set of possibilities, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying a story as I would have liked, no matter the quality of the performances.
What you do get a very good sense of are the hard choices (right or wrong) that were made to end a war. That secrets can save and destroy. That love comes in many definitions. That arrogant bastards can sometimes be right. That truth is a commodity. That no one can really do it all on their own. That curiosity and ambition can destroy. That collateral damage isn’t restricted just to war. As you can see, the messages are many and diverse.
Because of this density and broad focus, the film is more ensemble than star vehicle. Knightley (Begin Again), Goode (Stoker), Strong (Zero Dark Thirty), Leech (Grand Piano), and Dance (Game of Thrones ) make up the majority of the collective. And everyone delivers and supports the story equally even if Cumberbatch gets the primary focus.
If you don’t know about Turing and his life, this is a film you must see. If you do, it is still a movie worth seeing once, for the performances if not the script itself though the story is, sadly, still relevant today.