Although I watch plenty of films, I usually only make a single annual pilgrimage to the cinema, at this time of year. This last couple of years I've seen two great movies, Skyfall and Gravity, and this year the choice was The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who is most famous for his work on cracking the Enigma code.
I find codes and ciphers fascinating, although I don't always have the time and patience (or ability, in many cases) to try to solve them. They often crop up in Golden Age novels, and sometimes the explanations as to how to crack them can be rather tedious. And a story about building an early, complex computer could be very dull indeed if not handled correctly. The challenge for the writer of the screenplay, Graham Moore, was how to make the narrative gripping. He rose to the challenge quite splendidly.
Of course, he was helped by top-notch casting. Cumberbatch is brilliant, as usual, and Keira Knightley compelling, if perhaps slightly miscast as the gifted woman cryptanalyst, Joan Clarke (she played her as a strong woman confronting prejudice, which was fine, but much as I like Keira, I gained no real insight into the brilliance that Clarke must have had). Charles Dance and Mark Strong were very good indeed, as top brass at Bletchley, and Rory Kinnear excelled as a sympathetic policeman.
Moore employed several techniques. He used three timelines: the war years at Bletchley, Turing's schooldays, when he falls in love with another boy, and the post-war period when he was arrested on a charge of gross indecency. The story zipped around between the timelines, but was never confusing, partly because Moore delineated his characters clearly - quite simply, but in most cases with some depth. The film is based on a true story, but Moore was not afraid to deviate from the historical facts on numerous occasions. I didn't mind this, because it made for a pacy story that seemed convincing even if some aspects of it are debatable in terms of accuracy. And it seemed to me that Moore handled his depiction of Turing's sexual orientation sensitively and effectively, despite leaving some questions unanswered in my mind. You have to make choices as a writer, and I felt he made some very good choices. An excellent film, then, and a fine example of the screenplay writer's art.