The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum (2014)

Get quizzical with Benedict Cumberbatch in this compelling wartime thriller about real-life code-breakers.

The star of TV’s Sherlock puts in an Oscar worthy performance as Alan Turing; cryptologist, mathematician and inventor of the world’s first computer.

It unlocked the Nazi‘s Enigma code machine and so helped win the second world war – but he was later prosecuted for being gay.

A cleverly constructed narrative switches between between his arrest in 1951, unhappy schooldays and successful war years.

In 1941 he is recruited by MI6 spook  Major General Menzies (a scene-stealing Mark Strong) and placed under the sceptical Commander Denniston (wonderfully caustic Charles Dance).

Although prodigiously brilliant, Turing’s lack of social graces annoys everyone but Joan, the only female team member played by a winning Keira Knightley.

In a laboratory in Bletchely Park they try to decipher German communications before the daily code is changed.

There are over 159 million million possible combinations and every seconds delay means more Allied deaths.

So starts to Turing build his computer, an astonishing room-sized contraption of wires, wheels and whirligigs.

He nicknames it Christopher after a schoolfriend, a perfect name for anything super-intelligent but he’s unable make it work quickly enough.

Denniston wants to close the laboratory down and the paranoid atmosphere is heightened by the possible presence of a spy.

Being a British affair, the terrifically moving moment of eureka happens in the pub.

Despite saving an estimated 14 million lives and shortening the war by two years, his work is classified top secret.

So no-one is aware of his work when he is later tried and punished for indecent behaviour.

This excellent film is an insufficient legacy to a genius and British hero – but it’s a damn fine place to start.

★★★★☆

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Director: Matthew Vaughn (2015)

This glossy smug spy spoof lacks much spark or charm, it’s as flat and laboured as the later Roger Moore Bond movies it offers homage to.

The Kingsmen are an aristocratic, super-rich secret spy agency who operate without any pesky political oversight or accountability.

They’re an exclusive and aspirational club for the Bullingdon boys only with nattier outfits. Putting great stock by personal grooming, they’re based in a Tailor’s shop in Savile Row.

Head of the outfitters is Michael Caine who played spy Harry Palmer. All the agents sport Palmer’s famous wide brimmed specs because the film can’t resist its little jokes. It also references The Man From UNCLE and The Men In Black.

Brolly carrying agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sees the opportunity to atone for the death of a colleague by putting forward his son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) for recruitment.

Only he’s turned out to be a bit of baseball cap wearing chav and so must be properly attired, trained in espionage and taught to use violence to subjugate the working classes.

Although the script plays lip-service to meritocracy, Eggsy is chosen due to being of good stock and all the other potential recruits are public school types. The only female recruit of note is Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and she of course is a gorgeous lesbian.

Meanwhile billionaire Richmond Valentino (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) is plotting to create a new world order involving the murder of millions using micro-chips.

Politicians can’t be trusted to hang on to their integrity in the face of Valentino’s money, though a supple-buttocked Scandinavian Princess holds firm. Because she’s royal you see.

Valentino is assisted by a decorative blade-footed assassin called Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Having demonstrated her ability early doors, she’s mostly there to look pretty.

Poison pens, explosive cigarette lighters, jet packs and underground bases add to the retro atmosphere of the 1970’s sexual politics.

In the absence of decent jokes, obscenities are used as punchlines to scenes, the action set pieces are all too familiar and aside from a colourful moment of pomp and circumstance, there’s little that will raise an eyebrow.

Based on comic book by Mark Millar who also wrote the Vaughn directed Kick Ass, it’s the fifth script collaboration between Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, The Debt).

It’s most similar in tone but lacks the fresh energy and originality of the uproariously violent and funny Kick Ass.

Roger Moore single-handedly mocked his own image with far more grace, talent, charm and wit than is mustered here. Check out North Sea Hijack for a rather better service.

★★☆☆☆