Imitation game movie review, fair or foul ?

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It’s a bit of a stretch, but seeing as Alan Turing is the original thinker behind this whole industry, I am going to take the liberty of a review of the new movie “Imitation Game”. Prior to raising the curtain on the story of the breaking of the Enigma code during the second world war, Turing was unknown outside the computer science community. He was the original thinker behind the computer who came to a tragic end courtesy of appalling treatment at the hands of the British justice system because he was gay. Now we know the contribution he made in the second world war, he is recognized as a true national hero who’s subsequent treatment is appalling but somehow even more gratuitously inhumane.

ImgameI thought the movie was very well done, Benedict Cumberbatch is convincing as the socially inept math nerd …. How many of those do we all know ! The key elements of the code breaking story are communicated effectively. The importance, difficulty, and pressures of the task. The unique telephone exchange based mechanical computing machine. The fact that it was a particular weather station that sent a message every day that allowed the breakers to guess a target word and was crucial to reducing the size of the task.
It’s difficult to imagine what it must have felt like the first time it worked ! Finally, the moral ambiguity of how to use the information without alerting the Germans that the Enigma code had been hacked, was made completely clear in the movie.

Now to the complaints ! The movie suffers from the usual bio-pic manipulations. The story is simplified, and many peoples roles are combined to keep the cast of characters manageable. As a result some key people are missed from the story , particularly the GPO engineer who created the valve based machines that replaced the mechanical rotors. These electronic systems did the vast majority of code breaking.

I thought the the emotional peak’s were a bit contrived, particularly the first success and the argument as to how to use the results.

The biggest problem though was identified by Alex von Tunzelmann in a review in the Guardian. In movie , Turing is shown discovering a German spy in his group and covering it up when the spy threatens to expose him as a homosexual. This would have been treasonous. Also, he is shown telling the Manchester police the whole Enigma story. There is no evidence whatsoever that either occurred, and just seems to replay the homophobic assertion that gays are security risks. Tunzelmann identifies a number of other distortions in the movie, which I think just about fall into the arena of biopic license to tell a complex story in 2 hours.

Tunzlemann concludes that for asserting that Turing committed treason, “it must be sent to the bottom of the class”. I am not sure I would go that far because the rest of the story is so important and I think told effectively. However it is very sad that a movie trying to tell the whole story of a mistreated hero managed to make a new unfounded slanderous accusation. I think that this truly compelling real life story did not need any embellishment in any direction.


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