by NEVIL GIBSON
Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, the gathering of military intelligence has moved from being the difference in victory or defeat to one of open public debate about how far and to what extent it should exist at all.
The interception of enemy signals and their deciphering led to the formation of a government communications agency in Britain, known less formally as Bletchley Park.
Its existence was top secret for at least 40 years — it was disguised as a radio manufacturing factory — and so were the identities and functions of all who worked there.
Among them was Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician, who, like many other prodigies in linguistics and cryptology, had been recruited to decipher German codes and messages.
Among them were those encrypted by Enigma, an ingenious machine used by the German Navy and
While its basic methodology was known before the outbreak of World War II thanks to some Polish codebreakers, Turing’s task was to further his theoretical work on a “universal machine” that could achieve what humans couldn’t.
The Imitation Game (Roadshow/Weinstein Company) is based on the 1983 biography of Turing by
Andrew Hodges and fleshes out earlier films and stage plays on the breaking of Enigma and, in some claims, helping win the war two years earlier than otherwise.
Turing’s role was controversial, to say the least, and not just because he committed suicide in 1954, two years after being arrested on indecency charges. Because of his
status as a professor at Manchester University, he wasn’t jailed, as was common at the time, but was given doses of oestrogen as “chemical castration” to curb his homosexuality.
According to since-published accounts of Bletchley Park, Turing was not the “closet” type and his personality traits were as well known and tolerated as his intellectual prowess.
But the film dodges this and loads the issue by bookending the narrative with a police investigator wanting to link Turing with the “Cambridge spies” — a group of British intelligence agents who also worked for the Soviet Union.
One of these, John Cairncross (often known as the “fifth man”), was also in the small team Turing headed while he constructed his answer to Enigma – an electro-mechanical machine he called “Christopher”.
In fact, the screenplay suggests MI6 knew of Mr Cairncross’s allegiance, though this is one of many details that are skated over in an already heavily laden plot.
While the technical side is exciting enough in itself for an espionage thriller, Turing’s private life and character offer the much-needed spice.
Benedict Cumberbatch gives a superb performance, taking Turing’s eccentricity to the edge of autism and even giving him a love interest, an also excellent Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, the only woman on the Enigma team.
The other roles are more conventional, though Mark Strong doesn’t get to do as much as he should as the cynical MI6 agent in overall charge of the project.
Praise is also due to Norwegian director Morten Tyldrum (Headhunters).
A footnote not explored in the film is that Bletchley Park’s successor to Turing’s machine, Colossus, was the world’s first programmable digital computer, but it was destroyed along with its plans amid post-war paranoia, enabling the United States to forge ahead with its own version and usher in the computer era.
Rating: Mature audiences (adult themes); 114 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON