(Above) a sketch of Cumberbatch as Turing, and below, photos of the actor in character. Images courtesy of Differ.

“The Imitation Game”

November 21, 2014

Set during some of the most critical days of World War II, “The Imitation Game” portrays how legendary cryptanalyst Alan Turing and his fellow code-breakers helped shorten the war and save lives through their efforts at Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. The drama stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke and is directed by Morten Tyldum.

When Costume Designer Sammy Sheldon Differ interviewed to work on the movie, she created a presentation that contained historical images of the real-life figures in the story. Some of her findings led to using hints of vivid color, partly in symbolic reference to the huge, computer-like machine that helps break the German’s secret code.

Differ sought input from production designer Maria Djurkovic, and together the designers incorporate a series of reds into curtains, military hats or even the stripes on Turing’s suspender straps. The color references the red cogs, wheels and wires of the huge, computer-like, code-breaking machine Turing invented.

Differ also cleverly wove references to code and patterns into the costume for Turing, a mathematical genius. “The tweed jacket is like Morse code, or pixels from a video screen,” Differ said.

“If you look deeply into Alan Turing’s costumes, everything has a very graphic, geometrical pattern to it. All of the shirts have squares, or lines or checks–nothing curvy. That’s to represent the code,” she said. “It’s a subliminal thing. We were always going back to code or pixels or a computerized feel or geometric patterns.”

The look mirrors the graphic design featured in the movie’s title sequence. But Differ took her look a step further: She carefully mixed up patterns–in part to illustrate that Turing wasn’t particularly interested in fashion.

Differ built a key custom shirt on a 1951 photo of Turing. “He was wearing a shirt with Prince of Wales check, and a tie with a different Prince of Wales check. I thought it was so interesting. So I pushed it back [in time] to his first visit to Bletchley,” she said.

“In a way, it reflected his mismatching attitude toward his clothing,” Differ said. “We wanted to represent him as truthfully as possible, but also give telegraphic clues to the other side of him, which is very complex. We wanted it to be a very odd thing for someone to go to an interview [at Bletchley] in. And it became a key look that we pulled everything else from.”

The tweed jacket is a late 1930s vintage jacket that Differ tailored to fit Cumberbatch. “We did the whole film with that one jacket, which was a little worrying,” she said.

Differ found the period tie stuffed in a rental house bin. To make it more flimsy and thin, she removed the backing.

“That was his only tie. I was petrified! But it was one of those things. As you go through and research, and you find something and say, ‘There it is.’ And Benedict saw it and said, ‘That’s it.’”

“The Imitation Game” arrives in theaters on November 28.


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