It’s the height of the holiday season and the multiplexes are full – there’s another ‘Hobbit’, another ‘Night in the Museum’ and another ‘Hunger Games’ for the masses to gawp and marvel at. Not to say these are necessarily below par films – just not my cup of tea. ‘The Water Diviner’ is doing very well at the box office too – at last an Australian movie people will actually leave their homes for – albeit it with the pulling power of a Kiwi-born superstar. Over half a million Turks have seen this title, as well, in their own ‘plexes. Maybe there will be Oscar nominations from the aforementioned, but I do doubt there will anything, in that lot, to match the extremely fine performances I witnessed this sunny first week of January from each of the duo of Benedict Cumberbatch (‘The Imitation Game’) and Timothy Spall (‘Mr Turner’).
Cumberbatch was simply remarkable in the story of a World War 2 hero, one who never fired a gun in anger. But his contribution in building a machine to break the Enigma Code probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives. For decades he was an unsung hero – his genius remained a British top secret hidden away until recent times. As well, his deciphering invention assisted the ushering in of our own digital age. Yet this illustrious soul ended his life by his own hand, reviled in many quarters for his sexual proclivity. Eccentric and riven by his own inability to cope on many social levels, Alan Turing, in the movie, is portrayed as ‘loving’, after a fashion, assistant Joan Clarke – a role that under-uses the acting chops of Keira Knightley. I very much enjoyed Matthew Goode’s engaging performance as Turing’s offsider, Hugh Alexander. Complementing these top billings was a fine English supporting cast, but it’s BC who mesmerised in the lead. At the moment he is also gracing our small screens in the ABC’s ‘Sherlock’, but his quirks in this pale in comparison with what he produced for Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s fine offering. The actor himself related that he found the role almost too demanding, it was starting to do his head in – but for this scribe what he displayed in ‘The Imitation Game’ was a tour de force.
Another director of note, in Mike Leigh, has used heralded actor Timothy Spall in earlier offerings – in ‘Life is Sweet’ and ‘Secrets and Lies’.The great character thespian, however, has never been as dominant a presence in any of his considerable oeuvre than he is in ‘Mr Turner’. This is Leigh’s tribute to the man who revolutionised art and out-impressioned the Impressionists decades before Van Gogh and his ilk were in their pomp. JMW Turner has always been a personal favourite and seeing him come to life, warts and all, has been a revelation. And, oh dear, there are warts a-plenty. There are also glorious depictions of the British countryside and seascapes – the light that infuses this film is a work of art in itself.
Spall is simply superb. His extraordinarily porcine performance is riveting. He actually spent considerable hours preparing for this movie by learning how to imitate the types of brush strokes Turner would have had to use to produce his atmospheric masterpieces. Many of these are also given context by the movie. From the sketchy (pun) details of the great man’s life, Leigh has filled in the gaps and taken us convincingly to the middle decades of the Nineteenth Century. Unlike Turing, Turner found blissful happiness in later life in the ample arms of a seaside landlady, Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey). I wonder how they treated gays in his day?
So 2015 is off to a flyer with these two silver screen attractions, both featuring outstanding re-tellings of the lives of historical figures, albeit two from different walks of life and centuries. Let’s hope our sparkly new year ends up rivalling the previous for cinematic excellence. Cumberbatch and Spall will certainly prove testing acts to follow.
Article on the women who worked with Turing to break the Enigmas Code at Bletchley Park = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/11308744/The-extraordinary-female-codebreakers-of-Bletchley-Park.html
Trailer ‘The Imitation Game’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5CjKEFb-sM
Trailer ‘Mr Turner’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn4zSR_5ioI