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 States on November 28, 2014.
The film was criticised by some 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 the mathematician Alan Turing after an apparent break-in at his home. During his interrogation by Nock, Turing tells of his time working at Bletchley Park.
In 1927, the young Turing is unhappy and bullied at boarding school. He develops a friendship with Christopher Morcom, who sparks his interest in cryptography, and Turing develops romantic feelings for him. Before Turing can confess his love, Christopher dies unexpectedly from tuberculosis.
When Britain declares war on Germany in 1939, Turing travels to Bletchley Park, where, under the direction of Commander Alastair Denniston, he joins the cryptography team of Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards. The team are trying to decrypt the Enigma machine, which the Nazis use to send coded messages.
Turing is difficult to work with, and considers his colleagues inferior; he works alone to design a machine to decipher Enigma. After Denniston refuses to fund construction of the machine, Turing writes to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who puts Turing in charge of the team and funds the machine. Turing fires Furman and Richards and places a difficult crossword in newspapers to find replacements. Joan Clarke, a Cambridge graduate, surpasses Turing’s test but her parents will not allow her to work with the male cryptographers. Turing arranges for her to live and work with the female clerks who intercept the messages, and shares his plans with her.
Turing’s machine, which he names Christopher, is constructed, but cannot determine the Enigma settings before the Germans reset the Enigma encryption each day. Denniston orders it destroyed and Turing fired, but the other cryptographers threaten to leave if Turing goes. After Clarke plans to leave on the wishes of her parents, Turing proposes marriage, which she accepts. During their reception, Turing confirms his homosexuality to Cairncross, who warns him to keep it secret. After overhearing a conversation with a female clerk about messages she receives, Turing has an epiphany, realising he can program the machine to decode words he already knows exist in certain messages. After he recalibrates the machine, it quickly decodes a message and the cryptographers celebrate; however, Turing realises they cannot act on every decoded message or the Germans will realise Enigma has been broken.
Turing discovers that Cairncross is a Soviet spy. When Turing confronts him, Cairncross argues that the Soviets are allies working for the same goals, and threatens to retaliate by disclosing Turing’s homosexuality if his role as an agent is revealed. When the MI6 agent Stewart Menzies appears to threaten Clarke, Turing reveals that Cairncross is a spy. Menzies reveals he knew this already, and planted Cairncross among them in order to leak messages to the Soviets for British benefit. Fearing for her safety, Turing tells Clarke to leave Bletchley Park, revealing that he is gay and lying about never having cared for her. After the war, Menzies tells the cryptographers to destroy their work and that they can never see one another again or share what they have done.
In the 1950s Turing is convicted of indecency and, in lieu of a jail sentence, undergoes chemical castration so he can continue his work. Clarke visits him in his home and witnesses his physical and mental deterioration. She comforts him by saying that his work saved millions of lives.Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing
Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke
Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander
Rory Kinnear as Detective Nock
Allen Leech as John Cairncross
Matthew Beard as Peter Hilton
Charles Dance as Cdr. Alastair Denniston
Mark Strong as Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies
James Northcote as Jack Good
Steven Waddington as Supt Smith
Tom Goodman-Hill as Sgt. Staehl
Alex Lawther as young Alan Turing
Jack Bannon as Christopher Morcom
Tuppence Middleton as Helen Stewart
David Charkham as Joan's Father, William Kemp Lowther Clarke
Victoria Wicks as Joan's Mother, Dorothy Clarke
Dominic Charman as Sherborne Student 1
James G. Nunn as Sherborne Student 2
Charlie Manton as Sherborne Student 3
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. 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. Various directors were attached during development including Ron Howard and David Yates. In December 2012, it was announced that Headhunters director Morten Tyldum would helm the project, making the film his English-language directorial debut.
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 Saint Martins campus on Southampton Row in London. 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.
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.
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".
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. 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.
In June 2014, it was announced that Alexandre Desplat would provide the original score of the film. Desplat composed and orchestrated the score in under three weeks. It was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London. Desplat uses continuous piano arpeggios to represent both Turing's thinking mind and the workings of a mechanical machine. 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.
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 British government to Turing on 24 December 2013, the filmmakers released the first official promotional photograph of Cumberbatch in character beside Turing's bombe. 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. 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.
Princeton University Press and Vintage Books both released film tie-in editions of Andrew Hodges's biography Alan Turing: The Enigma in September 2014. The first UK and US trailers were released on 22 July 2014. The international teaser poster was released on 18 September 2014 with the tagline "The true enigma was the man who cracked the code".
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. In addition, Cumberbatch and Zuckerberg presented the Mathematics Prizes at the Breakthrough Awards on 10 November 2014 in honour of Turing.
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.
The official film website at theimitationgamemovie.com allows visitors to unlock exclusive content by solving crossword puzzles conceived by Turing. 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.
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.
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.
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. It had its European premiere as the opening film of the 58th BFI London Film Festival in October 2014. 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. 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.
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.
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. It was the top-grossing independent film release of 2014.
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.
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.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 91%, based on 251 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." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 73 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating a generally favourable rating of review. 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".
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". Kaleem Aftab of The Independent gave the film a five-star review, hailing it the "Best British Film of the Year". 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". Empire described it as a "superb thriller" and Glamour declared it "an instant classic". Peter Debruge of Variety added that the film is "beautifully written, elegantly mounted and poignantly performed". 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". Critic Leonard Maltin asserted that the film has "an ideal ensemble cast with every role filled to perfection". Praise went to Knightley's supporting performance as Clarke, Goldenberg's editing, Desplat's score, Faura's cinematography and Djurkovic's production design. 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'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". 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". 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". 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". It's "a storming performance from Cumberbatch: you'll be deciphering his work long after the credits roll" declared Dave Calhoun of Time Out. In addition, Claudia Puig of USA Today concluded in her review, "It's Cumberbatch's nuanced, haunted performance that leaves the most powerful impression". 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". 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".
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". Tim Robey of The Telegraph described it as "a film about a human calculator which feels ... a little too calculated". Some critics also raised concerns about film's alleged reluctance to highlight Turing's homosexuality. 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". 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". 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". 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." Computing historian Thomas Haigh, writing in the journal Communications of the ACM, said that "the film is a bad guide to reality but a useful summary of everything that the popular imagination gets wrong about Bletchley Park", that it "combines the traditional focus of popular science writing on the lone genius who changes the world with the modern movie superhero narrative of a freak who must overcome his own flaws before he can save the world", and that, together with the likes of A Beautiful Mind and The Theory of Everything, is part of a trend of "glossy scientific biopic[s]" that emphasize those famous scientists who were surrounded by tragedy rather than those who found contented lives, which in turn affects the way "[s]ome kinds of people, and work, have become famous and others have not."
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".
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.
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." Aiding the cause are campaigner Peter Tatchell, Attitude magazine, and other high-profile figures in the gay community.
In February 2015, Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Jessica Alba, Bryan Cranston, and Anna Wintour among others joined the petition at Pardon49k.org demanding pardons for victims of anti-gay laws. 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.
During production, there was criticism regarding the film's purported downplaying of Turing's homosexuality, 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". 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."
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". 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". 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."
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.
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?
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.
The film has received criticism from historians and academics regarding inaccuracies in the events and people it portrays.Naming the Enigma-breaking machine "Christopher" after Turing's childhood friend and suggesting that Turing was the only cryptographer working on it, with others either not helping or outright opposed.
Suggesting that only this one machine was built, with Turing playing a large role in its construction.
Suggesting that the work at Bletchley Park was the effort of a small group of cryptographers who were stymied for the first few years of the war until a sudden breakthrough that allowed them to break Enigma.
Suggesting that Enigma was the only German cipher broken at Bletchley Park.
Showing a scene where the Hut 8 team decides not to use broken codes to stop a German raid on a convoy that the brother of one of the code breakers (Peter Hilton) is serving on, to hide the fact they have broken the code.
Showing Turing writing a letter to Churchill to gain control over Enigma breaking and obtain funding for the decryption machine.
The depiction of the recruitment of Joan Clarke as a result of an examination after solving a crossword puzzle in a newspaper.
Exaggerating Turing's social difficulties to the point of depicting him having Asperger syndrome or otherwise being on the autism spectrum.
Scenes about Turing's childhood friend, including the manner in which Turing learned of Morcom's illness and death.
Portraying Turing's arrest as happening in 1951 and having a detective suspect him of being a Soviet spy until Turing tells his code-breaking story in an interview with the detective, who then discovers Turing is gay.
Suggesting that the chemical castration that Turing was forced to undergo made him unable to think clearly or do any work.
Clarke visiting Turing in his home while he is serving probation.
Stating outright that Turing committed suicide after a year of hormone treatment.
Depicting Commander Denniston as a rigid officer, bound by military thinking and eager to shut down the decryption machine when it fails to deliver results.
Showing Turing interacting with Stewart Menzies, head of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Including an espionage subplot involving Turing working with John Cairncross.
The Imitation Game has been nominated for, and has received, numerous awards, with Cumberbatch's portrayal of Turing particularly praised. 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.