Based on the real life story of legendary cryptanalyst Alan Turing, the film portrays the nail-biting race against time by Turing and his brilliant team of code-breakers at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, during the darkest days of World War II.
Benedict Cumberbatch cultists aside, theatergoers who saw Derek Jacobi play Alan Turing in 1986 in Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code may balk at seeing a Hollywoodized biopic that covers much the same ground. Except for one crucial sleight of script, The Imitation Game largely replicates the structure of Whitemore’s play. Both cover Turing’s budding as a math genius and his love of his doomed soulmate Christopher Morcom at Sherborne School, his cracking of Nazi Germany’s Enigma ciphers at Bletchley Park during World War II, his complex relationship with a female fellow cryptanalyst, and the criminalization of him as an unashamed gay man that preceded his suicide in 1954.
Although the BBC film of Breaking the Code was conventionally directed and its production values poor by 1996 standards, it preserved Jacobi’s virtuoso turn and augmented it with crafty performances by Richard Johnson, Prunella Scales, Amanda Root, and Harold Pinter. Whitemore’s TV adaptation retained from the play its daring soliloquys—the kind forbidden in mainstream movies—which opened windows into Turing’s psyche. Viewable on YouTube (as of press time), it will remain the essential Turing drama even if The Imitation Game gets among the Oscars.