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Broken code, broken man



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The Imitation Game (12a)
Running time 114 minutes
Rating: *****
Possibly the best British picture of the year so far – The Imitation Game – is sadly about how 1950s British stupidity and prejudice killed a man with perhaps the best mind of his generation, who could have transformed the world still further had he lived.
The film tells of Alan Turing, mathematician, cryptologist, the father of modern computing and a homosexual who committed suicide in 1954 after his mind was destroyed by a Government-imposed hormone ‘cure’ for what was then the criminal offence of being gay, as we would now describe him.
In 1940, Britain was on the verge of defeat. Nazi U-boats were sinking the convoys bringing us food and munitions from America. The Nazi radio communication code was clearly heard and recorded but undecipherable because of the use of a scrambling device named Enigma.
Britain had access to a captured Enigma machine, but had no idea how to use it. Thus Churchill ordered that the best minds in the country be gathered together at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, with the sole purpose of cracking the code.
Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a strange and lonely man (almost certainly on the autistic spectrum) was one of the band, owing to his brilliance at mathematics.
He quickly realised that you couldn’t decipher a machine-created code unless you used another machine, so he developed a rudimentary computer which finally managed to crack the codes and so certainly shortened the war by at least two years.
While at Bletchley, he met and became engaged to another brilliant mathematician Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), herself battling against the ingrained prejudice of those who failed to believe that women could be as academically brilliant as men. She later became a leading figure at GCHQ.
And it was his sexual orientation at a time when ‘poofs’ were hunted with medieval zeal that led to his disgrace and downfall.
Cumberbatch plays Turing as a lonely and complex man, so far down the road of genius that he could barely acknowledge the very things around him and who spoke with an almost childlike honesty, which rarely won him friends or even allies.
He despairs of the Establishment idiots such as Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), the head of Bletchley, and his somehow innocent brilliance is manipulated by cunning men such as Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), the then head of MI6.
His service to his country had to be kept under wraps as ‘Top Secret’ for more than 50 years – there was no chance for him to benefit from the acclaim he deserved. Instead, he was hunted down, suffering disgrace and downfall, his brilliant mind destroyed by the very Society he had worked so hard to save.
Cumberbatch, who gives a brilliant performance as the mathematician, has himself said of the story of Turing: “We killed him, and it makes me very angry”.
The film has already received awards at film festivals around the world and critics – despite some bemoaning the film’s downplaying of Turing’s homosexuality – have whispered the words “Oscar calibre”.
And its grim tale of how brilliant people struggled to convince the military of the need to think laterally at a time of desperate danger is a useful reminder for the present.
It is not unreasonable to think that had Turing lived, been encouraged and supported, he might well have developed modern computers by the 1960s. It is possible the worldwide web could have been a household name by the 70s and he might even have created artificial intelligence by the 80s.
It’s a great film (directed by Norwegian Morten Tyldum) and a ‘must-see’, which makes it the second great British film in a fortnight (Mr Turner). What’s happening to cinema, all this brilliance? Who cares, keep going.



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