It was in 1936 that pioneering British mathematician Alan Turing first described what he called the Universal Turing Machine. Today it's called a computer, and Turing is celebrated the world over as the father of computer science. Yet few know the unbelievable story of how Turing effectively won World War II for the Allies by secretly building the world's first computer and using it to crack Germany's Enigma machine, which the Nazis used to encrypt crucial war communications.
Turing's wartime achievement was kept secret for 50 years, but Norwegian director Morten Tyldum's thrilling The Imitation Game blows the lid off this story, focusing on Turing's well-deserved but unlikely status as a war hero.
That focus allows The Imitation Game to avoid the pitfalls of many Hollywood biopics. The film necessarily delves into Turing's tragic personal life (he was prosecuted for "gross indecency" merely for being a gay man in 1950s Britain), but never dissolves into melodrama. Graham Moore's beautiful screenplay scarcely wastes a word, making it easy to forgive its occasional wanderings from historical fact. And Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave, TV's Sherlock) is nothing short of brilliant as the awkward but visionary Turing.
The Imitation Game may be a fairly conventional film, but it's also a uniquely successful one. It'll be hard to beat over the holidays — and at next year's Oscars.