I was extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to watch The Imitation Game on a pre-release DVD in the comfort of my own home. It isn’t the sort of film I’d be particularly interested in, but starring Benedict Cumberbatch, one of my favourite actors, Keira Knightley and Charles Dance (AKA Tywin Lannister), how could I refuse?
The film is about the life and extraordinary talent of Alan Turing, a mathematician from Kings College, Cambridge. He achieved the job position at MI6 working to decode secret coded messages sent between the Germans, and deciphering their Enigma machine. He soon realised that with 159 million million various possibilities of codes which were changed again at midnight each day, the human mind was not a reliable method of working out the codes and within weeks of arriving at Bletchley Park he had designed a giant machine that could try out every code possibility within the course of a few hours. With this large computer, they were able to break the codes, save lives and shortened the Second World War by at least two years.
He spent his life hiding his homosexuality as it was illegal until 1967 and when arrested and charged for it, he opted for a government-mandated ‘hormonal therapy’ (chemical castration) – as opposed to jail where he would have been taken away from his beloved computing machines (by this time they had won the war). At 41 years old in 1954 he committed suicide. Just think what else he could have done for the country. Scientists and technicians later studied and developed his ‘Turing’ machines, which today we call computers.
Cumberbatch fits the role perfectly, adding his ‘Sherlock’ personality - verging on Asperger's - to the character, giving blunt and abrupt answers, taking everything literally, with an exceedingly intelligent and analytic brain, yet lacking in any ability to make friends or participate in 'small talk'. If you love him in BBC’s Sherlock, you’ll love this. The Imitation Game is a gripping movie which made me sit on the edge of my seat and cry out in frustration at several moments. Keira Knightley plays a very interesting and likeable character right from the moment she purposefully enters the room full of men applying for the role of a decoder and is patronisingly told that the clerical candidates are in another room. Turing gives her a chance to pass his 6-minute intelligence ‘exam’ and she beats all the other men.
Turing had to constantly prove himself to a lot of people – colleagues, commanders, generals. When his idea of a decoding machine was ignored, he wrote directly to Winston Churchill to ask for the £100,000 needed to build the machine that would win the war. There’s a heartbreaking scene (sorry to ruin it for you) where they have just cracked the Enigma code, and have gut-wrenchingly realised that there is about to be an attack on a British passenger convoy, of which one of their colleagues with them says that his brother is on that ship returning from war. They are faced with the dilemma of alerting the ship and RAF and saving 500 lives – or keeping Enigma and their success in breaking the Germans’ codes a secret and going on to win the war.
After the war in 1945 he was awarded an OBE for his wartime services, and in 2013, Turing received a posthumous by Queen Elizabeth II. This film is an absolute must-see, and has catapulted its way into my top 5 films. It's a thriller cross with being a drama and biography with moments of thrills, triumph and sadness. Hopefully now, through this great film, Alan Turing will finally receive the recognition he deserves.