Socialist Worker

The Imitation Game—breaking Britain's conservative codes in wartime

The film of The Imitation Game describes Alan Turing’s struggle against the British state to break a code and conceal his sexuality, writes?Nick Clark

Issue No. 2430

Benedict Cumberbatch playing scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch playing scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (Pic: flikr: touchemuch)

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing’s attempts to build a machine which could crack the Enigma code. It was the code used by the Nazis during the Second World War to send radio messages.

But it also deals with his struggle to hide his sexuality at a time when it was illegal to be gay.  

Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was one of the key scientists behind the invention of the computer. But he killed himself in 1954 after being chemically castrated  following a conviction for “gross indecency”. 

This homophobic law was used to persecute gay men. He was only pardoned last year.

Some critics have complained that the film focuses too little on this aspect of Turing’s life.

This is a little unfair. The final scenes of the film deal with this in a very powerful way. The audience is shown the devastating effect chemical castration has on Turing.

However, the accusation is not without basis. 

Turing’s sexuality is a recurring theme that underlies the main plot, but this is not primarily a film about gay oppression.

In a BBC interview director Morten Tyldum explained, “It’s a tribute to being different. 

“We need people who think different thoughts and are not following the norms if we’re going to move forward as a society.”

The story is less about Turing’s struggle to hide his sexuality and more about his battle as an individual against the state.

This is perhaps best encapsulated in the constant confrontations Turing has with naval officer Commander Alastair Denniston, played by Charles Dance.

At one point Denniston tells Turing, “You are a very small cog in a very large machine.”

This focus on Turing’s individuality leads the film to make some fairly ahistorical assertions at times.

We are sometimes asked to believe that he and his team single-handedly won the Second World War.

But this shouldn’t get in the way of the very prescient issues that the film raises.

Turing is twice accused of being a Soviet agent. 

This is used as an excuse to raid his office and later to spy on him, which leads to his arrest and conviction for “gross indecency”.

This raises parallels with contemporary examples of state surveillance, such as last year’s GCHQ scandal.

The film does perhaps suffer from a lack of focus in some parts. 

But it is still very much worth seeing, especially for those who don’t know very much about Turing’s life.

The Imitation Game
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Out now


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Tue 18 Nov 2014, 17:16 GMT
Issue No. 2430
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