Magazine article American Cinematographer

Decoding a Legacy

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Decoding a Legacy

Article excerpt

After decades of obscurity, Alan Turing, the young mathematician who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and laid the foundation for computer science, is finally getting his due. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology for Turing's 1952 conviction on homosexuality charges, which had led to the British war hero's suicide two years later. The Queen then granted a rare pardon in 2013. In between, a script by Graham Moore grabbed attention when it topped the Black List, Hollywood executives' ranking of the best undeveloped screenplays. Out of that came The Imitation Game.

Bringing Turing's story to the screen is Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) and director of photography Óscar Faura. The cinematographer's work on the tsunami drama The Impossible landed him his interview with Tyldum, who recalls, "I was blown away. [The Impossible] had this poetic element, and at the same time it captured the realism." That happened to be Tyldum's goal on The Imitation Game as well: "To make it real, but make it poetic." The other essential ingredient was adrenaline. "I wanted to use the language of the thriller without disturbing the realism," the director notes.

Faura was well prepared. All his features have been shot on 35mm, and he cut his teeth on 16mm at Barcelona's University School of Cinema and Visual Communication of Catalonia (ESCAC), where he met director J.A. Bayona, his steadiest collaborator. After graduation, the two shot numerous music videos, commercials, and then in 2007, Faura's first feature, The Orphanage - a supernatural thriller and Spanish box-office hit. They reunited again for The Impossible and are currently filming A Monster Calls.

Along the way, Faura has consistently worked with camera operator and ESCAC alum Albert Carreras, who again joined him for The Imitation Game. After all these years, says Faura, "We are very much in sync."

The telling of Turing's story involved two wars and three timelines. The director explains, "There's the war that went on inside Hut 8 [the decoders' workplace], which is Turing's war against his coworkers and against time. Then there's the actual war; we wanted to express that by dehumanizing it, making it into a war machine, with submarines, tanks, planes, and very few people."

The film opens in 1951 as Manchester police detectives examine the aftermath of a burglary at the home of Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), which begins an investigation into his past. The second timeline is during World War II, beginning with Turing's interview at the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, and continuing until the war's end. The third follows Turing at Sherborne boarding school, where a fellow math student introduces the introverted, 15-year-old Turing (Alex Lawther) to cryptography - and to his first, deeply felt feelings of love.

"We tried to subtly distinguish each of the worlds," says Faura. "We thought Manchester and the police office should be rainy and gray." Or, as Tyldum says of the scene in which Turing is interrogated, "a gray room, with two gray men in gray suits."

"For [scenes involving] the young Alan Turing," Faura continues, "we tried to achieve an overall brighter and cleaner ambience, appealing to the innocence of school days." Here, pastels dominate. In contrast, the 1940s are vibrant and saturated. "We took care not to fall into the clichéd wartime color palette," Faura notes. Brown, says Tyldum, "is the curse of the Forties."

One aspect of the production that was especially helpful in creating a sense of time and place was the use of locations where Turing had actually lived and worked, including Sherborne and Bletchley, the latter of which is now a museum and office accommodation. "We wanted to try for the real thing," says the director. "The biggest argument is for the actors. It had a huge impact on performance, being in the room where it actually happened." They also used original props when possible, including a real Enigma cipher machine. …

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