Cumberbatch is a respected character actor who thanks to TV series “Sherlock” has built a rabid following (often called Cumberbitches). “He’s phenomenally talented and smart,” director Morten Tyldum told me on the phone. “There’s something enigmatic about him. There’s so much going on, the camera lingers on him forever, behind the eyes are a million things going on that fascinate you that you can’t pinpoint. I wanted Turing to be a layered character, strong and awkward and shy and fragile and uncomfortable. Benedict was perfect, able to portray all of that at the same time.”
From the start Cumberbatch took the role seriously as he talked about it on the awards circuit. “The most daunting thing was his legacy is incredibly important,” he told me at the Academy Governors Awards. “I wanted to do justice to him. The storytelling doesn’t compromise the sense of the man, the era or the moral conundrums, it weaves the logic of the character into the logic of the drama, it’s a marriage of cracking the code and cracking open his character.”
Sure enough, Cumberbatch did earn his first Oscar nomination, but seemed a tad overwhelmed by the incessant politicking. (He made up for a sour SAG loser’s face with enthusiastic clapping at Redmayne’s BAFTA win.) It’s true that many people didn’t know the compelling, recently revealed history of Enigma code-breaker Turing, who single-handedly saved the Allies by staying ahead of Hitler’s every move in World War II. He also invented the computer along the way and was tragically persecuted and denied recognition for his achievements because of his homosexuality. Weinstein’s campaign consistently played up the heroism of Turing and his significance as a persecuted genius.
Top Brit “The Theory of Everything” producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working Title are Oscar perennials (“Les Mis,” “Atonement,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy,” “Anna Karenina”) who pushed Universal’s Focus Features to give the Oscar campaign everything they could. Although now run by new chief Peter Schlessel, who is not an awards veteran, Focus Features still boasts the same sophisticated marketing and awards team, although they have new distribution execs.
Both Eddie Redmayne, 32, and Felicity Jones, 31, tirelessly worked the awards circuit for months in Los Angeles, doing countless Q & As and parties. Redmayne, especially, is a witty, self-deprecating charmer, winning over advocates everywhere he went–just as he did in his acceptance speech Oscar night. Also, his role as ALS-afflicted Hawking is more sympathetic than the chillier Turing. And the twists and turns required to channel Hawking as they filmed out of sequence was an impressive feat of preparation and discipline that finally won the day.
Director Marsh gave the actors room to inhabit their characters as they saw them. “Working with Eddie and Felicity to make this work, if one overshadowed the other, Felicity fought for her character as do all actors on set, wanting to express the research she brought back,” he told me in a phone interview. “Stephen is an optimistic character; he has to be a witty and mischievous man and expose that humor. Eddie has to work without vanity to look so strange, so disfigured.”
Veteran New Zealand screenwriter Anthony McCarten also had a compelling narrative. He was obsessed with Hawking (as Moore was with Turing), but the physicist resisted having his personal story told. Only when Jane Hawking published her memoir “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking” did McCarten take heart, stalking her to her door in Cambridge in the hope that he could talk her into letting him adapt a movie. She waited to see his script and it took eight years before she and her children were ready to make the film. For McCarten and filmmaker James Marsh it was crucial that this was a balanced relationship drama with both Hawkings represented equally. Eventually Hawking also opened up and met with the filmmakers and cast, granting permission to read his unpublished autobiography, and use of his iconic mechanical voice. After the first screening, the scientist had tears on his cheeks.
Both “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” were considered more constructed, manipulative mainstream entertainment than some of their rivals. The most destructive assault on “The Imitation Game”– that it neglected to show Turing in the act of having sex with another man– put the filmmakers and actors on the defense from the start. “Well, if it had been deemed appropriate for the greater drama I would have performed any scene,” Cumberbatch told me. “He was an active homosexual. I don’t think the movie lacks anything in a cynical way, like he’s not still a gay man. I say the words ‘touch another man’s penis,’ that’s pretty graphic. Do we have to illustrate sexuality through sex? It’s not so much about sexuality as about his young love, the tragedy is that he never again experiences love in the same way. That was the key to his suicide.”
4. The Accolades. “The Imitation Game” racked up audience awards at Toronto and many other festivals, and went on to score multiple Golden Globe, BAFTA and Guild nominations and eight Oscar nominations including Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress, Editing, Production Design and Score.
But it didn’t chalked up many wins: while the movie did collect the USC Scripter and WGA awards for Adapted Screenplay (where “Theory” wasn’t eligible), “Birdman” won the SAG Ensemble Award, PGA and DGA, and Redmayne beat out Cumberbatch for Dramatic Actor Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards, where “The Theory of Everything” also took home Best British Film. Shockingly, “The Imitation Game” won not one BAFTA.
“The Theory of Everything” nabbed five Oscar noms: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Actress and Score. Not landing documentary Oscar-winner James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) for director was a significant blow, while Norwegian helmer Tyldum did land a slot for “The Imitation Game.”
5. Likely Wins. “The Imitation Game” won Adapted Screenplay for Moore. McCarten had to settle for the BAFTA –he is well-known and based in London–and “Theory” wasn’t eligible at the WGA. Alexandre Desplat’s score for popular “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was expected to win over his “The Imitation Game.” In the end, voters did not split their Desplat scores and “The Theory of Everything”‘s classical score by Johann Johannson did not slip through.