A biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch as an ingenious British codebreaker and computer-science pioneer Alan Turing has won the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Director Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game” claimed the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award at a Sunday morning brunch, held annually to mark the end of the 11-day movie marathon.
The film, which also stars Oscar nominee Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, beat out first runner-up “Learning to Drive” — a dramedy about the unlikely friendship between Patricia Clarkson’s newly separated book editor and her driving instructor, played by Ben Kingsley — and second runner-up “St. Vincent,” which stars Bill Murray as the cantankerous caretaker of a young boy.
The crowd-pleasing “The Imitation Game,” however, simply proved too compelling in a tough-to-predict year in which there was no clear front-runner for the festival’s top award.
“It’s a terrific story and it’s a story that’s not that well-known,” festival artistic director Cameron Bailey said of the winning film following the announcement.
“You’ve got terrific direction — Morten Tyldum was here before with ’Headhunters’ — and one of the best actors and stars in the world right now in Benedict Cumberbatch.”
Surely, “The Imitation Game” has now solidified its position in a rapidly developing Oscar race.
After all, three of the past six People’s Choice Award winners have gone on to win best picture, including “The King’s Speech,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and last year’s victor, “12 Years a Slave.”
And Cumberbatch, the lanky and incisively articulate Brit best-known for starring on “Sherlock,” certainly seemed to be in the midst of a moment at this year’s festival. A year after the 38-year-old unveiled three separate films at the Toronto festival (including “12 Years a Slave,” in which he had a small role), he was one of the most in-demand stars here.
Frenzied fans packed the streets surrounding the premiere of “The Imitation Game” while Cumberbatch signed autographs and posed for selfies.
But it was the real-life character he portrayed who seemed to deeply resonate with audiences, said Bailey.
Aside from being a pivotal figure in bringing the Second World War to an end, Turing made endlessly innovative contributions to the future of personal computing. The story, of course, featured a personal wrinkle: Turing tried to conceal his sexual orientation but was ultimately prosecuted for homosexuality (then a crime) in 1952, before dying two years later.
“(This is) a man whose mind was instrumental in helping to end the Second World War early, who is one of the fathers of the computers that we all use today, and we don’t know much about him,” Bailey offered.
“The fact that he had to suffer as a result of his sexual orientation also is a drama that I think deserves to be told. This is a story with a lot of great elements to it.”