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Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch appears in a scene from "The Imitation Game."

Many of the people reading this review are doing it on a computer. And all of them are reading it in English. It’s not much of stretch to say that you could credit both of those things to a man named Alan Turing.

Turing was a British mathematician who spearheaded the Allied effort to decode the Nazis’ secret communications. Many historians now believe that cracking the Enigma code was the decisive factor in defeating the Germans. And in the process, Turing invented the first machine that could rightly be called a computer.

As dramatized in “The Imitation Game,” Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is not the heroic type. The socially awkward young man is more interested in puzzles than politics. But the Enigma code is the greatest puzzle in the world. While the military officers balk at Turing’s pecularities, top-level spy Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) recognizes his genius and adds him to the small code-breaking team that is secretly working out of a radio factory.

Turing is unsatisfied with the prowess of his colleagues and sponsors a newspaper crossword-puzzle contest to find some brighter minds. The brightest is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who becomes his closest ally in the otherwise all-male fraternity.

They make an odd couple, as Turing is a world-class genius and closeted homosexual, while Joan is a homebody whose parents want her to find a good husband. The film frames Turing’s wartime story within a post-war investigation of his sexuality, and also flashes back to his schoolboy days, when he passed coded notes to a sympathetic classmate named Christopher.

“Christopher” is the name that Turing gives to his wall-sized computing contraption, with spinning tumblers that try to make sense of the Nazi gibberish that is intercepted every day. Only after Joan convinces him to reach out to his fellow code breakers (including a second-best brain played by Matthew Goode) does the machine yield results. And then, in a cruel twist of fate, they realize they must ignore a portion of the intercepted attack plans so the Nazi won’t know they’ve been compromised.

Although it is capably directed by Norway’s Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game” is English-flavored Oscar bait, a true story of personal and national triumph like “The King’s Speech.” Cumberbatch is moviedom’s man of the moment, and with this painfully human performance, the actor who has specialized in difficult geniuses finally cracks the code of compassion.

{&rule}What “The Imitation Game” • Three and a half stars out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1: 54 • Content Some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking

Joe Williams is the film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.