Our interview with Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech and Graham Moore For ‘The Imitation Game’

Published 11:10 am Saturday, December 20, 2014

By Lauren Bradshaw

The Awards season is upon us, and one of the major films to receive recognition this year is “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Allen Leech and Matthew Goode. The film tells the incredible true story of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and cryptanalyst that built a machine to crack Nazi Germany’s Enigma code during World War II. With the eventual help of other Bletchely Park cryptanalysts like Joan Allen (Knightley), John Carincross (Leech) and Hugh Alexander (Goode), the intelligence output generated from Turing’s machine is said to have shortened the duration of the war, thus saving millions of lives.

“The Imitation Game” has helped bring recognition to a brilliant man who may otherwise be overlooked. However, it also tells another, darker story. Turing was a homosexual, and even though he contributed so much to Great Britain (and to the world), authorities used his sexuality against him. How horrific is that? A man that sacrificed so much for his country, and kept many government secrets private, did not receive any respect or privacy in return. After the war, authorities seized on the fact that Turing was a homosexual and convicted him of “indecency.” Instead of going to prison, Turing agreed to have a chemical castration. He was never the same again.

Cumberbatch completely transforms into Turing, becoming almost unrecognizable. We have seen Cumberbatch play the role of a brilliant, socially-awkward man before in Sherlock, but this is completely different. From the way he holds himself, to his speech pattern, Cumberbatch gives one of the most transformative performances of the year

Knightley, who I constantly attest does not make bad movies, is also at her best, bringing attention to a woman who is just as smart, if not smarter, than her male counterparts and was a constant positive force in Turing’s life. These two “outcasts” (a homosexual man and a woman in a male-dominated environment) contributed to the biggest intelligence feat of WWII, which helped turn the tide of the entire war. Thankfully, their contributions are finally being brought to the public conscious.

Thanks to a wonderful script by newcomer Graham Moore, and brilliant performances from the entire cast, “The Imitation Game” is a must-see this holiday season. At the Middleburg Film Festival this past October, I had the opportunity to sit down with Allen Leech (of Downton Abbey fame) and screenwriter Graham Moore (who just received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay and is expected to receive an Oscar nomination as well). Leslie Combemale (The Cinema Siren) and I spoke to them about the fine line between humor and drama in a film, playing and writing about a real person vs. a fictional character, working with an actual Enigma machine, and much more! Check out the interview below and go see “The Imitation Game” in theaters now!

Lauren B.: How are you both today?

Allen: Good, thank you, how are you?

Lauren B.: Good! Have either of you been to DC before?

Graham: I have been here a bunch but [to Allen] it’s your first time, right?

Allen: Yes, it’s my first time.

Lauren B.: Are you going to get to explore at all?

Allen: We did a bit of exploring last night.

Graham: I have a friend that lives nearby and she took us out to dinner and we walked around the neighborhood. It was really lovely, but we were the only people at this Halloween party without costumes.

Lauren B.: Allen, you should’ve just said you were playing someone from Downton Abbey.

Allen: Yeah, we came up with Downton to the Future. It was Tom Branson with a DeLorean.

Lauren B.: Anyway, we digress! I wanted to first talk to you [Graham] about the humor in “The Imitation Game.” There’s a fine line between making the movie have too much humor or being too dramatic. How did you find that balance?

Graham: Yeah, I think throughout the process, having a certain lightness to the piece was important because we obviously knew it was going to get to such a dark, heavy place. One of the most amazing things about having Alan Turing as a historical figure, and as a character, is that he was so lively, driven and passionate. We didn’t want to make a doddering, stumbling mathematician character that you’ve seen a million times on-screen before because I don’t think that’s what Alan Turing was like. His life was full of passion and humor and we wanted to show that on-screen. Certainly if you look at the lunch scene, where you [Allen] and Benedict are talking about lunch for an entire page, it’s a funny thing to be like, “Are we going to spend all of this time getting jokes into the movie?” But, I think that was important for all of us as a way to pay tribute to Turing.

Leslie: I thought it was interesting that you chose to commit to him having killed himself because there is a lot of controversy over whether he did or not. How much research did you do about that and what made you commit to that eventuality?

Graham: We did as much historical research as we possibly could. I think he killed himself. Andrew Hodges, who wrote the biography of Turing [“Alan Turing: The Enigma”] that we used as our first research material, very much believes it was a suicide. I think major historians on the issue believe it to be suicide, and so we felt very comfortable going with that. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories, like did MI-6 have him killed, which I find very, very goofy and hard to believe because it doesn’t make much sense. I think with all of the research we did, it seemed to me and to all of us that it was very like that it was a suicide. His mother believed it was an accident. She believed that cyanide accidentally got onto the apple. I can’t say it’s impossible that that happened, but to most major historians that seems unlikely.

Leslie: For a certain part of the population, it’s going to be a really hard movie to watch, which I love actually because it’s about a lot of things.

Graham: Yeah, I think that was one of the main goals with the piece, taking a story that could be so difficult, but it’s important. It needed to be told on-screen in this way. It’s about a gay, English mathematician who commits suicide at the end. That’s not a film many people are used to seeing in cinemas. But to take a story like that and bring it to a wider audience was… Alan Turing and Joan deserve that. She has many accomplishments that have never been celebrated. So that was always the goal for us with this film.

To read the full interivew, visit www.clotureclub.com.

LAUREN BRADSHAW is a lover of all movies, even the bad ones. Follow her on twitter @flickchickdc and her blog is fangirlfreakout.com. She grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., and can be reached at lnb5e@virginia.edu.