Benedict Cumberbatch’s Best War Movie Is Streaming on Netflix


Summary

  • Cumberbatch’s role in The Imitation Game earned him critical acclaim and his first two career Oscar nominations.
  • The movie tells the story of Alan Turing, a brilliant code-breaker during WWII, with a focus on his personal struggles.
  • Cumberbatch delivers a stirring performance, portraying Turing’s brilliance, struggles, and sacrifices with depth and emotion.



As Netflix subscribers remain in awe of Benedict Cumberbatch’s stunning performance in the TV series Eric, the streaming platform also boasts the British actor’s two best war movies. While it can be argued that director Sam Mendes’ World War I outing 1917 is the superior picture, Cumberbatch only appears onscreen for roughly three minutes. By contrast, Cumberbatch’s leading performance in the World War II drama The Imitation Game earned the actor his first two career Oscar nominations.

Tasked with playing the brilliant real-life mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, Cumberbatch’s role in The Imitation Game was unanimously praised, leading the film to score a whopping 90% Rotten Tomatoes score and 91% audience score, indicating broad appeal among critics and general moviegoers alike. With the film celebrating its 10th anniversary this Christmas, it’s only right to reflect on the towering achievement and explain why The Imitation Game is Cumberbatch’s best war movie yet.



What Is The Imitation Game About?

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Based on the 1983 biographical tale Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game is a period WWII drama directed by Morten Tyldum. Cumberbatch stars as Turing, an instrumental figure in computing whose mathematical genius helped the U.S. military crack the German Enigma code to defeat the Axis powers. The period biopic traces Turing’s professional pressures and his off-work tribulations, including schoolyard bullying, being extremely difficult to work with, and his arrest for being gay at a time when it wasn’t openly accepted in society.


In 1928, Turing became interested in cryptography after meeting his first love, Christopher Morcom, who died from tuberculosis soon after. When WWII was declared in 1939, Turing was recruited to work alongside a team of expert code crackers to decipher Germany’s Enigma Machine, which sends encrypted messages to its army forces. Turing dismisses his colleagues as inferior, turns his back on them, and works on the machine alone. When the cost of production becomes too steep, Turing contacts British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for assistance, and he promotes Turing as team director and lends them the proper funding.


The tension and suspense of the British WWII movie ratchet up as Turing struggles to build an efficient code-breaking machine, which he affectionately names Christopher after his first love. One of Turing’s most trusted colleagues is a woman named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who her parents forbid from working with male code-breakers. When Clarke’s parents threaten to move and take her with them, Turing weds Clarke in a friendly yet passionless marriage. Turing confesses his homosexuality to a male colleague, who tells him to keep his sexual identity a secret. The dramatic stakes continue to escalate as Turing grapples with his true identity and races against the clock to build the best code-busting machine possible.

The Historical Import of The Imitation Game

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While 1917 is also rooted in historical facts, The Imitation Game tells a much broader and more important war story in many respects. Whereas 1917 tells the intimate journey of two British Lance Corporals during World War I, the world’s existential fate depends on Turing’s success in The Imitation Game. One of the most instrumental figures in mathematics and computational processing, Turing’s true story is eminently compelling and among the most important in history. Professionally speaking, Turing’s work helped the Allied Forces defeat the Germans and the Axis powers in several battles en route to the war’s end.

Turing’s non-professional journey is equally important and hard to disentangle from his codebreaking. Upon realizing he confessed his homosexuality to a Soviet spy, Turing is threatened with having his identity exposed. As a result, Turing tells Clarke that he is gay and implores her to leave, suggesting that he never truly loved her and only needed her decryption skills. Although this was a ploy to protect Joan from public persecution, they virtually ended their marriage and kept their relationship professional.


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In 1952, Turing was convicted of gross indecency for his homosexuality. Dedicated to his work, Turing opted for chemical castration over imprisonment. The movie ends with Clarke visiting Alan one last time, realizing the psychological horrors he has endured since his conviction. By the end, The Imitation Game portrays a person who altered the world and how the world altered the person. To see how far society has come since Turing’s contributions is a reminder of the sacrifices he made personally and professionally. Turing’s fight extends beyond the battlefield and backrooms as his personal life is scrutinized.


Cumberbatch’s Stirring Portrait

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Beyond the story and the subject, Cumberbatch gives arguably his most commanding performance in The Imitation Game. Unlike his memorable extended cameo in 1917, Cumberbatch dominates nearly every frame of The Imitation Game and never delivers a false moment. Early on, Cumberbatch plays Turing with a prickly arrogance and dismissive countenance that almost makes him dislikable. As the story unfolds and viewers understand Turing’s sacrificial journey, he becomes more sympathetic, identifiable, and a hero to root for.


The scenes Cumberbatch shares with Knightley are tender and heartbreaking, and no matter what decision Turing makes, Cumberbatch makes viewers feel the tremendous weight he has as World War II escalates. Cumberbatch expresses the full gamut of human emotion in his masterful turn, deservedly earning his first Oscar and BAFTA nomination. Whether playing deadpan humor in his isolation with his colleagues or seething with feverish rage, Cumberbatch fully commits to his portrayal of Turing as a rich, fully-rounded character with as many flaws as virtues.

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Even when the heavy-handed symbolism of codes becomes tiresome, Cumberbatch remains electrifying to watch on screen as Turing navigates his ups and downs. The final act allows Cumberbatch to plumb deep emotional depths, where he must confront his off-work happiness with his at-work responsibilities. The charms, the quirks, and the tragic turns in Turing’s life allow Cumberbatch to convey a true genius whose sacrifices are still felt today. Stream on Netflix.




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