It’s awards season, when ‘prestige’ movies captivate susceptible audiences. Sometimes these movies are genuinely beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking feats of cinema. And even when they’re not, it’s easy to get swept away by subject matter, high-mindedness and publicity campaigns.
Although there’s no guarantee, films about real-life people – especially notable historical figures or those with physical or psychological ailments – tend to be attractive to award voters.
Enter The Imitation Game, about pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Tragically persecuted for his sexuality, his codebreaking had a profound impact on the course of the Second World War.
It is a fine showcase for the popular Cumberbatch. But The Imitation Game does not feel truly Best Picture-worthy. Or rather it does – it just doesn’t feel like great film-making. It’s one of those worthy, wholesome biopics that gloss over complex individuals and messy lives. It’s a watchable film with a conventional narrative, as crisp as fellow star Keira Knightley’s vowels.
Knightley is a surprise. She has struggled, but seems to revel in playing eccentric, intelligent women. She actually manages to connect with her character and mean what she says as cryptanalyst Joan Clarke, striking a deep chord as the lone woman on Turing’s code-cracking team.
The Imitation Game is not our only awards-bothering British academic biopic, as Eddie Redmayne transforms into Stephen Hawking for director James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything.
Based on Hawking’s first wife’s memoirs, it’s on the sentimental end of the biopic spectrum. It does stay with you a bit longer, not because it is genuinely more affecting but because it drags a bit.
Once you get past predictable scenes with annoying Oxbridge types down the pub, the two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones (as Jane Hawking) are fantastic.
I saw this movie in a packed, expectant theatre, and it has taken the top spot at the UK box office. Unfortunately we don’t discover much, and if a conventional picture ever called for a more inventive take on the biopic, it was this one.