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Keira Knightley on The Imitation Game and feminism

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Acclaimed British actor Keira Knightley may have a reputation for talking in a posh way onscreen (thanks to eye-catching turns in films like Atonement and The Duchess), but the task of finding her voice for her role as Joan Clarke, the close friend and colleague of Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, involved more than just recycling accents and inflections of past characters - there was serious research to be done.

"There was an interview she gave that’s online when she was in her late 70s," Knightley says. "I watched that and certainly took that quality of quiet, very nice femininity I found interesting." She had the difficult task of bringing the character to life for audiences whilst remaining true to the real person, but It must also have helped that she admired her character. This is of course hindered (or some may say helped) by the fact that Clarke is lesser-known to the public than Turing. Knightley says: "I liked the idea she broke boundaries in her own right, but didn’t go about it like a bull in a china shop. People didn’t see her coming, which was something I got watching her online."

Clarke was an important person in Turing’s life. Though he was gay, there is likely there was a close bond between them; a meeting of minds that Knightley and Cumberbatch endeavoured to capture on camera: "That great friendship and love that existed between her and Alan – you could really feel that in the interview. She was so protective talking about him. But, given how important she was there is very little."

Though eager to talk about the character of Turing, she caused a bit of a stir at the press conference for The Imitation Game in London when it is suggested that the man could be considered autistic, with her becoming quite visibly unimpressed by the suggestion: "I didn’t think autistic. No, I just thought he was what Benedict had gone for. I thought it was a wonderful characterisation and made complete sense. I read the same biographies that Benedict had read and the same wonderful script. We don’t actually know because there are no recordings." For her, Cumberbatch’s performance is a reliable indicator of what Turing was like: "As a characterisation I felt it was beautiful, and really got the essence of what I’d read."

Clarke was not fully accepted in her role as a code-breaker due, as the film suggests, to the sexism of the time. So does Knightley consider there to be a comparison worth making between her and the new phase of modern feminism we are currently going through? "Sure," she says. "The actual Joan was fighting for a place at the table and equal pay - and I think those are the two main things today (that) feminists are fighting for."

On a lighter note, Knightley confesses that her skills at maths and mind puzzles have not improved after being immersed in codes and numbers for months: "One day we all thought we should really be doing crosswords so we brought in Quick Crossword, and between five of us it took five days and we still didn’t finish it. So no, we’re really bad at all of it and I didn’t understand any of the maths!"

The Imitation Game (2014) is released in cinemas on 14 November, Certificate 12A. Keira Knightley and other members of the cast spoke at the press event organised by the BFI and StudioCanal in London earlier this autumn. Watch the trailer for the film below:

 

 

 




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