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January 2, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch

by Brendan

So, an awareness of Benedict Cumberbatch was gradually dawning on me.  I’d not seen him in anything, but the new iteration (or “rebooot,” if you must) of Sherlock Holmes was all over the Internet, with praise for his performance.  And soon it turned out that a lot of the women I know uttered long libidinous sighs when speaking of him — which puzzled me, since I saw the pictures in the newspaper and on the Web, and found him perhaps a little plain, a little odd-looking.

Then the Alan Turning movie came out, The Imitation Game (Turing’s title for the article that introduced what we now call the Turing Test, a test to see if someone has made a computer that most people would think was a person).  I’ve long been fascinated with Turing, Turingwho not only broke the Enigma Code, by which the Nazis sent coded message during WWII, but was instrumental in creating the modern computer.  And he was a major social loser, a first-class weirdo (a genius mathematician); I’m quite the computer geek myself, so interest in Turing’s life was a done deal.  And, perhaps most significantly, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality in England was a crime, and he was harassed and oppressed for that.

The Imitation Game is excellent, and Cumberbatch is beyond great– he gets inside Turing in ways that are hard to believe.  So the guy is a genius with math, with codes, with highbrow intellectual stuff, but he can barely understand how humans interact.  His colleague Joan Clarke, played in the movie by Keira Knightley, takes the opportunity to explain flirting to him in a pub — her friend is flirting with Hugh, one of Turing’s Enigma Project associates, and poor Alan has no idea what’s happening, no idea how body language and facial expressions are a part of human communication, at least as important as (maybe more so) than words.  She explains to Alan how you make other people like you, and he wonders why someone would do that — “I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she explains, ‘So I have to.”

Intrigued, I Netflixed a Sherlock Holmes DVD, and I very much like the episodes I saw.  This version is not a period piece from Victorian London, but instead takes place in the 21st Century.  Holmes uses both cell phone and computer, has John Watson as his friend\associate, and both helps Inspector Lestrade and has a rivalry with his brother Mycroft Holmes (just as in the original Holmes stories, so the big twist is re-setting the story in the present).

Holmes is as arrogant and dismissive as he’s always been, Sherlockthrough the b\w Basil Rathbone films and all the other versions, but he’s arrogant and dismissive in interesting ways.  Watson, whom he always calls “John,” accuses of him of not caring at all about the people he’s working for, helping– Holmes asks, “If I cared for them, would it help them?”  John wants to know if he actually can help them if he doesn’t care about them; the answer is a quick “Yes.”

As you can see from the picture to the left, Cumberbatch is quite stylish as Holmes and has great hair.  He’s quite the thing onscreen, an actor that I pretty much can’t take my eyes off.  And as Holmes, he has much better hair than as Turing.

Martin Freeman, he of many screen and TV credits, including playing Bilbo in the recent Hobbit movies, is also quite good as Dr. Watson.

I might even go see The Imitation Game again.  It’s stuck with me all week, and I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about it with friends.  G.W. and I had a nice conversation about Turing tonight — he’s very knowledgeable about him.

And it’s such a tragic story; Turing was a war hero, to whom England owed rewards and gratitude.  Instead, he’s convicted for homosexuality and given a choice between “chemical castration” and two years in prison.  He chooses the castration, and it leads to very bad results (which I won’t spoil for you her — go see the movie).

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