| Michel Comte |
OTTAWA (AFP) – “The Imitation Game”, a biopic of British codebreaker Alan Turing starring Benedict Cumberbatch, won the Toronto film festival’s top prize Sunday, confirming its status as an early Oscars contender.
Morten Tyldum’s World War II-era drama also stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech of the hit television series “Downton Abbey”, and features a rare German Enigma code machine from the war.
“There was something very subtle, uncompromising and unusual about (Turing) but also very quiet and stoic,” Cumberbatch, who has been generating Oscar buzz for his portrayal of the computer sciences pioneer, said earlier this week in Toronto.
“He didn’t knowingly martyr himself. He was just true to himself. He didn’t see himself as a victim or a hero, he just did work and behaved true to his nature.”
Turing was a brilliant Cambridge mathematician who broke Nazi German codes for the British military during World War II, helping to shorten the war.
He ended his life in sadness, committing suicide in 1954 at the age of 41, two years after being convicted of the then crime of homosexuality.
Turing was awarded a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth II last December, following a long campaign by supporters.
Sunday’s prize puts “The Imitation Game” among the early Oscars frontrunners.
Three of the past six winners in Toronto went on to win best picture at the Oscars, including “12 Years a Slave”, “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire”.
Cumberbatch, star of the television drama series “Sherlock”, played a somewhat sympathetic plantation owner in “12 Years”.
“Imitation” was not the only biopic to earn rave reviews in Toronto.
“The Theory of Everything”, based on a memoir by Stephen Hawking’s first wife, Jane, saw British actor Eddie Redmayne play a star turn as a young Hawking as a student.
Film portrayals of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer and notorious Colombian cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar were also well-received.
“Imitation” took the Toronto film festival’s People’s Choice Award ahead of Isabel Coixet’s “Learning to Drive”, about a writer (Patricia Clarkson) who finds solace in driving lessons with a Sikh instructor (Ben Kingsley).
Also in the running was Theodore Melfi’s feature debut “St Vincent”, starring Bill Murray as a cantankerous, cash-strapped, loose-living retiree.
In other categories, the audience voted the vampire drama “What We Do in the Shadows” best horror, and “Beats of the Antonov”, about Sudanese refugees, best documentary film.
Jury prizes went to the cinematic love letter “Margarita, with a Straw”, “Time Out of Mind”, starring Richard Gere, and “May Allah Bless France!”, about disenfranchised youth.
The Toronto film festival posted a record industry delegate attendance – more than 5,000 from 80 countries – and its highest film sales to date, after a bidding war for the distribution rights for Chris Rock’s “Top Five”. In total, 41 films were scooped up and will be released in theatres and online over the coming months, including “Before We Go”, “The Cobbler”, “Maps to the Stars,” and “Sunshine Superman”.