Monday, 9 May 2016


“I’m a walking, talking enigma. We’re a dying breed.” - Larry David

Alan Mathison Turing OBE FRS (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) was a pioneering English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and theoretical biologist. He was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, which can be considered a model of a general purpose computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking centre. For a time he led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including improvements to the pre-war Polish bombe method and an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Turing played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic; it has been estimated that this work shortened the war in Europe by as many as two to four years.

After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he designed the ACE, among the first designs for a stored-program computer. In 1948 Turing joined Max Newman’s Computing Machine Laboratory at the Victoria University of Manchester, where he helped develop the Manchester computers and became interested in mathematical biology. He wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, first observed in the 1960s.

Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts, when such behaviour was still a criminal act in the UK. He accepted treatment with DES (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing died in 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined his death as suicide, but it has been noted that the known evidence is equally consistent with accidental poisoning. In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”. Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.

I preface Movie Monday with Turing’s mini biography as the film we watched at the weekend concerned him. It was  Morten Tyldum’s 2014 film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear and Allen Leech. The film is based on the book by Andrew Hodges, “Alan Turing: The Enigma”, the screenplay by Graham Moore.

The film is set in Bletchley Park where the cryptanalysis team, run by Alan Turing, cracked the code of the German Enigma Machine during World War II. The film is well structured in that it alternates between the efforts of the code-breaking team to solve the Enigma code, and the life of the young Alan Turing and the events after the war that destroyed his life. The non-linear narrative and flashbacks allows the viewer to develop an understanding of how complex a man Turing was. The movie is further enhanced by the inclusion of newsreel footage and scenes of the world at war. It is not all doom and gloom, there is quite a lot of humour in the film too.

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an amazing performance as Turing. It is a fine actor who can convince you that you are looking at a real, living, breathing character replete with his mannerisms, flaws, good qualities and allow you to piece together a mental image of what the person is like, what he may be thinking and what he may be feeling. Keira Knightley turns in a fine supporting role as Turing’s colleague  Joan Clarke. Her role may not be as meaty as Cumberbach’s but she makes the most of her lines and her presence gives Turing a three-dimensional quality and increases the “based on a real story” appeal of the movie. The remaining actors also deliver great performances. The cinematography of Oscar Faura is good, the editing by William Goldenberg crisp and the music score by Alexandre Desplat appropriate and non-obtrusive.

The important thing to realise about the film is that it is not a documentary, it is a bio-pic. Facts do not get in the way of the good story and one has to take the film with a grain of salt. There are inaccuracies, anachronisms and a little bit of lionisation. However, as film it has to do all of that in order to appeal to the masses… The film makes a point about society’s prejudice against anyone who is “different” and deviates from acceptable societal norms. It stretches the truth a little in order to drive home these points.

It was an engaging film, quite seriously watchable, but at the same time one has to keep on reminding oneself, that the Turing one sees on screen is sufficiently different from the real Turing, but yes, one does appreciate somewhat who that person was and what he did. If you want the real truth, read a biography or watch a bona fide documentary. This was a movie!

1 comment:

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a stunning performance. Loved this movie.