The Imitation Game

This article is about the 2014 film. For the 1980 television play by Ian McEwan, see The Imitation Game (play).
The Imitation Game

UK theatrical release poster
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Produced by
Written by Graham Moore
Based on Alan Turing: The Enigma
by Andrew Hodges
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography Óscar Faura
Edited by William Goldenberg
Distributed by
Release dates
Running time
114 minutes[1]
Country United States[2][3]
Language English
Budget $14 million[4]
Box office $233.6 million[5]

The Imitation Game is a 2014 American historical drama thriller film directed by Morten Tyldum, with a screenplay by Graham Moore loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges (previously adapted as the stage play and BBC drama Breaking the Code). It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as real-life British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence codes for the British government during World War II.

The film's screenplay topped the annual Black List for best unproduced Hollywood scripts in 2011. The Weinstein Company acquired the film for $7 million in February 2014, the highest amount ever paid for U.S. distribution rights at the European Film Market. It was released theatrically in the United Kingdom on November 14 and the United States on November 28.

The Imitation Game was a commercial and critical success. It grossed over $233 million worldwide against a $14 million production budget, making it the highest-grossing independent film of 2014. It was nominated in eight categories at the 87th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Tyldum), Best Actor (Cumberbatch), and Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley). It won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. It garnered five nominations in the 72nd Golden Globe Awards and was nominated in three categories at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards, including Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. It also received nine British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominations, including Best Film and Outstanding British Film, and won the People's Choice Award at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival.

The film was criticised for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and Turing's character and relationships. However, the LGBT civil rights advocacy and political lobbying organisation the Human Rights Campaign honoured The Imitation Game for bringing Turing's legacy to a wider audience.


In 1951, two policemen, Nock and Staehl, investigate a break-in at the home of mathematician Alan Turing, whose suspicious behaviour and absence of war records causes Nock to believe that Turing may be a Soviet spy. The police send a man to follow Turing into a pub, where he hands an envelope to a male prostitute, who is arrested shortly after and confesses that Turing is a client. Staehl is ready to charge Turing with gross indecency, but Nock is still convinced that Turing is a spy, and begs Staehl to interrogate Turing for half an hour, whereupon the latter begins to disclose his top-secret activities during the war.

In 1939, after Britain declares war on Germany, Turing is accepted by Commander Alastair Denniston of the Royal Navy for a code-breaking job at Bletchley Park, working alongside Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards. They are instructed to break the Enigma codes that the Germans use to encrypt their communications, which, as Maj Gen Stewart Menzies of MI6 explains, allows them to attack British and American shipping, leading to famine and the loss of life. Turing works in isolation from the others, to the disappointment of his colleagues, and he concentrates all of his efforts in creating a machine, as opposed to calculating by hand. When Denniston refuses to fund the machine's construction, Turing writes to Winston Churchill, who arranges the funding and names Turing as the team leader. Turing immediately fires Furman and Richards, who are linguists rather than mathematicians, and orders the others to construct the machine with him.

There is a flash-back to 1927 when Turing was in a boys only school, where he was heavily bullied by other pupils, but was rescued by a boy named Christopher Morcom. The latter introduces him to recreational cryptography, and arouses Turing's romantic feelings, but dies after the spring break because of bovine tuberculosis, leaving Turing scarred.

Turing's team, which needs more people, places a crossword puzzle in the newspaper, and conducts a mathematical examination for candidates, eventually selecting Joan Clarke and Jack Good. Clarke is prevented by her parents from working with an all-male team, so Turing asks her to become one of the telegraph clerks, who are female, and conveys cryptographic materials to her living quarters in secret. The machine is eventually finished, and Turing names it 'Christopher', but it takes too long to execute, whereas the ciphers of Enigma are changed on a daily basis. Denniston orders the machine to be destroyed and Turing fired, but the other cryptographers threaten to quit. Denniston relents and says he will give the team one month to decode an encrypted German message with the machine. During this time. Clarke's parents pressure her to leave Bletchley because she is unmarried, alone and want her home so Turing proposes to her so she can stay. At the engagement party, Hugh begins to flirt with a colleague of Joan's named Helen. As they flirt, Helen jokes how she has a crush on a German but cannot pursue him because she suspects he has a girlfriend based on the messages. Turing asks how she knows and Helen clarifies that because the messages start with the same word, she suspects that must be someone's name. Because of this, Turing realises that the machine can be sped up by prerecognising routine phrases such as "Heil Hitler," and the recalibrated machine starts to quickly decode transmissions. However, the team realises that, should the Royal Navy act on the new information, the Germans may realise that Enigma is broken and redesign it, thereby voiding the team's work.

As such, the team conceals the success of the machine from Denniston, and delivers the results to Menzies, who uses his influence to prevent the team from being fired. Menzies works with the team to determine which pieces of information can be used while arousing the least German suspicion. Around this time, Turing discovers that Cairncross is a Soviet spy, but Cairncross argues that the Soviets are allied with the UK, and threatens to expose Turing's homosexuality if he tells anyone. Turing finds Menzies in Clarke's home, suspecting her of being a spy. When Turing reveals that the spy is Cairncross, the latter explains that he already knew, and has been using Cairncross to leak information of low importance. Shortly after, fearing that Clarke is in trouble because of her secret involvement with the team, Turing reveals to her that he is a homosexual, hoping to drive her away. She is unfazed by this and Turing lies that has never cared for her. They break up but she refuses to leave. As the war ends, Menzies tells the team to destroy all of their work and never speak of their achievements to the world.

In 1951, back in the interrogation room, Nock is stunned by the story and says that he cannot judge Turing. However, Staehl has the charges pressed and Turing is given a choice of two years in prison or chemical castration. Turing chooses the latter. He is visited at home by Clarke, who witnesses his physical and mental deterioration. She comforts him by saying that his work saved millions of lives.

In the end, the team is shown in 1945 burning all of their documents, and a caption reveals that Turing committed suicide in 1954 at the age of forty one.



Before Cumberbatch joined the project, Warner Bros. bought the screenplay for a reported seven-figure sum because of Leonardo DiCaprio's interest in playing Turing.[12][13][14][15][16] In the end, DiCaprio did not come on board and the rights of the script reverted to the screenwriter. Black Bear Pictures subsequently committed to finance the film for $14 million.[4][17][18] Various directors were attached during development including Ron Howard and David Yates.[19] In December 2012, it was announced that Headhunters director Morten Tyldum would helm the project, making the film his English-language directorial debut.[20][21]

Bletchley Park, "the home of the codebreakers" where parts of the film were shot

Principal photography began on 15 September 2013 in Britain. Filming locations included Turing's former school, Sherborne, Bletchley Park, where Turing and his colleagues worked during the war, and Central St Martin’s School of Art Campus on Southampton Row in London.[22] Other locations included towns in England such as Nettlebed (Joyce Grove in Oxfordshire) and Chesham (Buckinghamshire). Scenes were also filmed at Bicester Airfield and outside the Law Society Building in Chancery Lane. Principal photography finished on 11 November 2013.[23]

The bombe seen in the film is based on a replica of Turing's original machine, which is housed in the museum at Bletchley Park. However, production designer Maria Djurkovic admitted that her team made the machine more cinematic by making it larger and having more of its internal mechanisms visible.[24]

The film's title refers to Turing's proposed test of the same name, which he discussed in his 1950 paper on artificial intelligence entitled "Computing Machinery and Intelligence".[25]

The Weinstein Company acquired the film for $7 million in February 2014, the highest amount ever paid for US distribution rights at the European Film Market.[26] The film is also a recipient of Tribeca Film Festival's Sloan Filmmaker Fund, which grants filmmakers funding and guidance with regard to innovative films that are concerned with science, mathematics, and technology.[27]


The Imitation Game
Film score by Alexandre Desplat
Released 24 November 2014 (2014-11-24)
Genre Soundtrack
Length 51:08
Label Sony Music Entertainment
Desplat composed the film's score in under three weeks.

In June 2014, it was announced that Alexandre Desplat would provide the original score of the film.[28] Desplat composed and orchestrated the score in under three weeks.[29] It was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London.[30] Desplat uses continuous piano arpeggios to represent both Turing's thinking mind and the workings of a mechanical machine.[30] He said of the complexity of the continuity and structure of the score:

[W]hen the camera at the end of the film has those beautiful shots of the young boy, the young Alan, and he's meeting with the professor who's telling him his friend Christopher is dead, and the camera is pushing in on him, I play Christopher's theme that we heard very early on in the film. There's a simple continuity there. It's the accumulation of these moments that I can slowly but surely play that make it even stronger.[30]

The score received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, losing to the score of The Grand Budapest Hotel, also composed by Desplat.



Following the Royal Pardon granted by the United Kingdom government to Turing on 24 December 2013, the filmmakers released the first official promotional photograph of Cumberbatch in character beside Turing's bombe.[31][32] In the week of the anniversary of Turing's death in June 2014, Entertainment Weekly released two new stills which marked the first look at the characters played by Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Matthew Beard, and Allen Leech.[33] On what would have been Turing's 102nd birthday on 23 June, Empire released two photographs featuring Mark Strong and Charles Dance in character. Promotional stills were taken by photographer Jack English, who also photographed Cumberbatch for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.[34]

Princeton University Press and Vintage Books both released film tie-in editions of Andrew Hodges's biography Alan Turing: The Enigma in September 2014.[35] The first UK and US trailers were released on 22 July 2014.[36] The international teaser poster was released on 18 September 2014 with the tagline "The true enigma was the man who cracked the code".[37]

In November 2014, the Weinstein Company co-hosted a private screening of the film with Digital Sky Technologies billionaire Yuri Milner and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Attendees of the screening at Los Altos Hills, California included Silicon Valley's top executives, such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Linkedin's Reid Hoffman, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Airbnb's Nathan Blecharczyk, and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. Director Tyldum, screenwriter Moore, and actress Knightley were also in attendance.[38] In addition, Cumberbatch and Zuckerberg presented the Mathematics Prizes at the Breakthrough Awards on 10 November 2014 in honour of Turing.[39]

The bombe re-created by the filmmakers has been on display in a special The Imitation Game exhibition at Bletchley Park since 10 November 2014. The year-long exhibit features clothes worn by the actors and props used in the film.[40]

Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer (left) and 22nd United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (right) both publicly expressed support and appreciation for Turing and the film.[41]

The official film website at allows visitors to unlock exclusive content by solving crossword puzzles conceived by Turing.[42] Google, which sponsored the New York Premiere of the film, launched a competition called "The Code-Cracking Challenge" on 23 November 2014. It is a skill contest where entrants must crack a code provided by Google. The prize/s will be awarded to entrant/s who crack the code and submit their entry the fastest.[43]

In November 2014, ahead of the film's US release, The New York Times reprinted the original 1942 crossword puzzle from The Daily Telegraph used in recruiting codebreakers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Entrants who solved the puzzle could mail in their results for a chance to win a trip for two to London and a tour of Bletchley Park.[44]

TWC launched a print and online campaign on 2 January 2015 featuring testimonials from leaders in the fields of technology, military, academia, and LGBTQ groups (all influenced by Turing's life and accomplishments) to promote the film and Turing's legacy. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales all gave tribute quotes. There were also testimonials from LGBT leaders including HRC president Chad Griffin and GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis and from military leaders including the 22nd United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates.[41][45][46][47]

Theatrical release

The film had its world premiere at the 41st Telluride Film Festival in August 2014, and played at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival in September.[48] It had its European premiere as the opening film of the 58th BFI London Film Festival on October 2014.[49][50] It had a limited theatrical release on 28 November 2014 in the United States, two weeks after its premiere in the United Kingdom on 14 November.[13] The US distributor TWC stated that the film would initially debut in four cinemas in Los Angeles and New York, expanding to six new markets on 12 December before being released nationwide on Christmas Day.[51]

Home media

The Imitation Game was released on 31 March 2015 in the United States in two formats: a one-disc standard DVD and a Blu-ray with a digital copy of the film.[52]


Box office

The Imitation Game grossed $91.1 million in North America and $136.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $227.8 million, against a budget of $14 million.[5] It was the top-grossing independent film release of 2014.[53]

The film opened number two at the UK box office behind the big-budget film Interstellar, earning $4.3 million from 459 screens. Its opening box office figure was the third highest opening weekend haul for a British film in 2014. It achieved a 90% "definite recommend" from its core audience, according to exit poll figures. Its opening was 107% higher than that of Argo, 81% higher than Philomena and 26% higher than The Iron Lady following its debut.[54][55]

Debuting in four cinemas in Los Angeles and New York on 28 November, the film grossed $479,352 in its opening weekend with a $119,352 per-screen-average, the second highest per-screen-average of 2014 and the 7th highest of all time for a live-action film. Adjusted for inflation, it outperformed the Weinstein Company's own Oscar-winning films The King's Speech ($88,863 in 2010) and The Artist ($51,220 in 2011), which were also released on Thanksgiving weekend. The film expanded into additional markets on 12 December and was released nationwide on Christmas Day.[56][57][58]

Critical response

Cumberbatch at the premiere of the film at TIFF, September 2014

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 90%, based on 229 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "With an outstanding starring performance from Benedict Cumberbatch illuminating its fact-based story, The Imitation Game serves as an eminently well-made entry in the 'prestige biopic' genre."[59] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 73 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating a generally favourable rating of review.[60] The film received a grade of "A+" from market-research firm CinemaScore and was included in both the National Board of Review's and American Film Institute's "Top 10 Films of 2014".[61][62][63]

The New York Observer's Rex Reed declared that "one of the most important stories of the last century is one of the greatest movies of 2014".[64] Kaleem Aftab of The Independent gave the film a five-star review, hailing it the "Best British Film of the Year".[65][66] Lou Lumenick of the New York Post described it as a "thoroughly engrossing Oscar-caliber movie", while critic James Rocchi added that the film is "strong, stirring, triumphant and tragic".[67] Empire described it as a "superb thriller" and Glamour declared it "an instant classic".[68][69] Peter Debruge of Variety added that the film is "beautifully written, elegantly mounted and poignantly performed".[70] Critic Scott Foundas stated that the "movie is undeniably strong in its sense of a bright light burned out too soon, and the often undignified fate of those who dare to chafe at society's established norms".[71] Critic Leonard Maltin asserted that the film has "an ideal ensemble cast with every role filled to perfection". In addition, praise was given to Knightley's supporting performance as Clarke, Goldenberg's editing, Desplat's score, Faura's cinematography and Djurkovic's production design.[72] The film was enthusiastically received at the Telluride Film Festival and won the "People's Choice Award for Best Film" at TIFF, the highest prize of the festival.

Cumberbatch signing autographs at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 2014

Cumberbatch's performance was met with widespread acclaim from critics. TIME ranked Cumberbatch's portrayal number one in its Top 10 film performances of 2014, with the magazine's chief film critic Richard Corliss calling Cumberbatch's characterisation "the actor's oddest, fullest, most Cumberbatchian character yet... he doesn't play Turing so much as inhabit him, bravely and sympathetically but without mediation".[73][74] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times declared Turing "the role of Cumberbatch's career", while A.O. Scott of The New York Times stated that it is "one of the year's finest pieces of screen acting".[75][76] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone asserted that the actor "gives an explosive, emotionally complex" portrayal. Critic Clayton Davis stated that it's a "performance for the ages ... proving he's one of the best actors working today".[77][78] Foundas of Variety wrote that Cumberbatch's acting is "masterful ... a marvel to watch", Manohla Dargis of The New York Times described it as "delicately nuanced, prickly and tragic" and Owen Gleiberman of the BBC proclaimed it an "emotionally tailored perfection".[79][80] It's "a storming performance from Cumberbatch: you'll be deciphering his work long after the credits roll" declared Dave Calhoun of Time Out.[81] In addition, Claudia Puig of USA Today concluded in her review, "It's Cumberbatch's nuanced, haunted performance that leaves the most powerful impression".[82] The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy reported that the undeniable highlight of the film was Cumberbatch, "whose charisma, tellingly modulated and naturalistic array of eccentricities, talent at indicating a mind never at rest and knack for simultaneously portraying physical oddness and attractiveness combine to create an entirely credible portrait of genius at work".[83][84] Critic Roger Friedman wrote at the end of his review, "Cumberbatch may be the closest thing we have to a real descendant of Sir Laurence Olivier".[85]

While praising the performances of Cumberbatch and Knightley, Catherine Shoard of The Guardian stated that the film is "too formulaic, too efficient at simply whisking you through and making sure you've clocked the diversity message".[86] Tim Robey of The Telegraph described it as "a film about a human calculator which feels ... a little too calculated".[87] Some critics also raised concerns about film's alleged reluctance to highlight Turing's homosexuality.[88] British historian Alex von Tunzelmann, writing for The Guardian in November 2014, pointed out many historical inaccuracies in the film, saying in conclusion: "Historically, The Imitation Game is as much of a garbled mess as a heap of unbroken code".[89] Journalist Christian Caryl also found numerous historical inaccuracies, describing the film as constituting "a bizarre departure from the historical record" that changed Turing's rich life to be "multiplex-friendly".[90] L.V. Anderson of Slate magazine compared the film's account of Turing's life and work to the biography it was based on, writing, "I discovered that The Imitation Game takes major liberties with its source material, injecting conflict where none existed, inventing entirely fictional characters, rearranging the chronology of events, and misrepresenting the very nature of Turing's work at Bletchley Park".[91] Andrew Grant of Science News wrote, "... like so many other Hollywood biopics, it takes some major artistic license – which is disappointing, because Turing's actual story is so compelling."[92]

The Turing family

Despite earlier reservations, Turing's niece Inagh Payne told Allan Beswick of BBC Radio Manchester that the film "really did honour my uncle" after she watched the film at the London Film Festival in October 2014. In the same interview, Turing's nephew Dermont Turing stated that Cumberbatch is "perfect casting. I couldn't think of anyone better". James Turing, a great-nephew of the code-breaker, said Cumberbatch "knows things that I never knew before. The amount of knowledge he has about Alan is amazing".[93]

Social action

In January 2015, Cumberbatch, comedian-actor Stephen Fry, producer Harvey Weinstein, and Turing's great niece Rachel Barnes launched a campaign to pardon the 49,000 gay men convicted under the same law that led to Turing's chemical castration. An open letter published in The Guardian urged the British government and the Royal family, particularly Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to aid the campaign.[94]

The Human Rights Campaign's Chad Griffin also offered his endorsement, saying: "Over 49,000 other gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same law. Turing was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. The others were not. Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000."[95] Aiding the cause are campaigner Peter Tatchell, Attitude magazine, and other high-profile figures in the gay community.[96]

In February 2015, Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Jessica Alba, Bryan Cranston, and Anna Wintour among others joined the petition at demanding pardons for victims of anti-gay laws.[97][98] Other historians, including Justin Bengry of Birkbeck University of London and Matt Houlbrook of the University of Birmingham, argued that such a pardon would be "bad history" despite its political appeal, because of the broad variety of cases in which the historical laws were applied (including cases of rape) and the distortion of history resulting from an attempt to clean up the wrongdoings of the past post facto. Bengry also cites the existing ability of those convicted under repealed anti-homosexuality laws to have their convictions declared spent.[99]


Knightley portrayed code breaker Joan Clarke.

During production, there was criticism regarding the film's purported downplaying of Turing's homosexuality,[100] particularly condemning the portrayal of his relationship with close friend and one-time fiancée Joan Clarke. Hodges, author of the book upon which the film was based, described the script as having "built up the relationship with Joan much more than it actually was".[101] Turing's niece Payne thought that Knightley was inappropriately cast, as she described the real Clarke as "rather plain", and said: "I think they might be trying to romanticise it. It makes me a bit mad. You want the film to show it as it was, not a lot of nonsense."[102]

Speaking to Empire, director Tyldum expressed his decision to take on the project: "It is such a complex story. It was the gay rights element, but also how his (Turing's) ideas were kept secret and how incredibly important his work was during the war, that he was never given credit for it".[34] In an interview for GQ UK, Matthew Goode, who plays fellow cryptographer Hugh Alexander in the film, stated that the script focuses on "Turing's life and how as a nation we celebrated him as being a hero by chemically castrating him because he was gay".[103] The producers of the film stated: "There is not – and never has been – a version of our script where Alan Turing is anything other than homosexual, nor have we included fictitious sex scenes."[104]

In a January 2015 interview with The Huffington Post, its screenwriter Graham Moore said in response to complaints about the film's historical accuracy:

When you use the language of "fact checking" to talk about a film, I think you're sort of fundamentally misunderstanding how art works. You don't fact check Monet's Water Lilies. That's not what water lilies look like, that's what the sensation of experiencing water lilies feel like. That's the goal of the piece.[105]

In the same interview, Tyldum stated:

A lot of historical films sometimes feel like people reading a Wikipedia page to you onscreen, like just reciting "and then he did that, and then he did that, and then he did this other thing" – it's like a "Greatest Hits" compilation. We wanted the movie to be emotional and passionate. Our goal was to give you "What does Alan Turing feel like?" What does his story feel like? What'd it feel like to be Alan Turing? Can we create the experience of sort of "Alan Turing-ness" for an audience based on his life?[105]

For the most part, Hodges has not commented on the historical accuracy of the film, alluding to contractual obligations involving the film rights to his biography.[106]


The film has received criticism from historians and academics regarding inaccuracies in the events and people it portrays.

Historical events

Turing's rebuilt bombe machine, called Christopher in the film, on display at Bletchley Park Museum

Turing's personality and personal life

While a few writers and researchers have tried to assign such a retrospective diagnosis to Turing,[107] and it is true that he had his share of eccentricities, the Asperger's-like traits portrayed in the film – social awkwardness, difficulty working cooperatively with others, and tendency to take things too literally – bear little relationship to the actual adult Turing, who, despite enjoying working alone, was sociable and had friends, was also viewed as having a sense of humour, and had good working relationships with colleagues.[90][108][109]

Personalities and actions of other characters


The Imitation Game has been nominated for, and has received, numerous awards, with Cumberbatch's portrayal of Turing particularly praised.[113][114][115][116] The film and its cast and crew were also honoured by Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the United States. "We are proud to honor the stars and filmmakers of The Imitation Game for bringing the captivating yet tragic story of Alan Turing to the big screen", HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement.[117]


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