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The Imitation Game

Titel: The Imitation Game (War of Deception)
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnaer, a.o.
Released: 2014
Playing time: 109 minutes

It is estimated that the Second World war has been shortened by two years as a result of the breaking by the British of the German Enigma code, which is supposed to have saved 14 to 21 million lives. With a number of settings of 159 with eighteen zero's and a code that changed daily, the machine with which the Germans encoded their military message traffic could not be cracked by human brains. In 1939 and 1940, at the Bletchley Park estate in the south of England, a group of very smart people secretly worked on a solution to decipher this code. The result was an electromechanical decoding device, which was called a 'bombe' and can be regarded as a forerunner of the modern computer. The 'father' of this machine was the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing.

The film 'The Imitation Game', which was awarded in 2015 with an Oscar for 'best edited script', tells the story of Alan Turing and his contribution to the deciphering of the Enigma Code. The film starts after the war, when Turing is employed at the University of Manchester. There has been a burglary in his house and the police finds it suspicious that nothing has been stolen. Rather rudely, Turing dismisses the detectives from his house which brings detective Robert Nock to suspect that he has something to hide. Not knowing about the work of Turing during the war, the policeman suspects that the scientist is a Soviet spy. Ultimately, police investigations show that the suspect is not a spy, but that he is guilty of homosexual acts, which were punishable in England until 1967. Consequently, Turing was sentenced to chemical castration in 1952 and commits suicide in 1954, without being honoured for his important contribution to British war efforts.

The tragic fate of the genius mathematician has been shown truthfully in the film, although there are some doubts about his suicide. Alleged is also that he was murdered by the British Secret Service because he knew too much about the British decoding programme, or that he died owing to a sloppy handling of cyanide, of which it is known that he carried out experiments with it at home. There are no doubts about his homosexuality and also the cruel punishment he was subjected to is a fact. Only in 2009 posthumous apologies from Prime Minister Gordon Brown were made, followed in 2013 by a pardon from Queen Elisabeth II. This rehabilitation led the British government to announce in 2016 that other men, who were punished for the same 'crime', would be pardoned. It concerns in total, about more than 49.000 men. This pardon has been dubbed 'Alan Turing law' by the British media.

Rehabilitation is certainly what the feature film brings about. Flashbacks show how the young, socially awkward Turing is an outsider at Sherborne School, who falls in love with a classmate, Christopher Morcom. When the boy dies due to illness, there is nobody with whom Turing can share his loss. The adult Turing, masterly interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch, still carries this grief with him and calls his 'bombe' affectionately Christopher. But the film does not only normalize Turings homosexuality, but also contains a plea to value people who are of a different sexual orientation. The Turing portrayed by Cumberbatch has autistic features. He has difficulties with expressing emotions, he does not understand jokes and is little empathetic. The message is that some people are capable of great performances due to their limitations. Genius and 'craziness' go hand in hand at Cumberbatchs Turing.

The message is that this is a boost for everyone who recognizes himself in the protagonist, but critics indicate that there is no evidence that Turing was actually socially or emotionally limited. According to a commentator in The Spectator, he was just a "warm, charming and humorous" person. Nonetheless, the 'contact-disturbed' character portrayed by Cumberbatch greatly contributes to the attractiveness of the film. Anyone who knows the British actor of his role in the BBC mini-series 'Sherlock' knows what to expect. His acting performance thereby does absolutely nothing to diminish the honour dedicated to the film with regard to the awesome performance which was done at Bletchley Park. Harassed by their Navy superiors who wanted quick results, Turing and the other code crackers succeeded in writing history. It is arguable whether the deciphering of Enigma really led to shortening the war by two years, but nobody will deny that it gave the Allies a head start on the Germans. Also incorporated in this film in a romanticized way is the dilemma, given by this knowledge: many lives could be saved, but to much anticipation of German messages would give away that the British had cracked the code.

Not only Turing, but the other code crackers also are portrayed in the film. Among them, Keira Knightley, who played Joan Clarke, the only woman on the team. A decisive role is played by Charles Dance who plays Alastair Denniston, the commander of the Government Code and Cypher School (the official name of the decoding team). The navy man is depicted in the film as suspicious and non-cooperative chief of the code breakers, who himself has no idea about the code cracking. In fact, in 1914, as a cryptologist within the Admiralty he was already involved in the development of Room 40, the crypto-analytical centre of the navy. Again a distortion of reality in favour of the film script. The Polish contribution to the cracking of the code is also insufficiently highlighted. The Poles, after all, were the first to crack a more primitive version of the Enigma machine. Nevertheless, 'The Imitation Game' is a very strong film, which amusingly opens up a complex subject such as the decoding of the Enigma code to a large audience.

Rating: (Very Good)


Translated by:
Cor Korpel
Article by:
Kevin Prenger
Published on: