“We’re going to break an unbreakable Nazi code and win the war” says Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) near the start of this new biopic of the computer pioneer.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story, well they do now. And that’s one of the problems for the film makers. So they tweak the plot, glam it up by getting Keira Knightly to do the exposition and add some extra espionage in case the raw elements aren’t enough.
Then we are presented with one war film cliche after another. The progress of the war is charted in a few hackneyed shots using either newsreel footage or reconstructions that nearly tip into pastiche.
Turing has been a cause celebre among LGBT rights campaigners for many years. He was an active gay man who was prosecuted for “gross indecency” in 1952 and chemically castrated.
He died two years later, probably by his own hand. An official pardon came in 2013.
A mathematics genius, he designed and built one of the world’s first computers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War in order to crack the German Enigma code.
Having done so successfully, his team could plot the whereabouts of the entire German U-boat fleet, thus enabling the Allies to win the Battle of the Atlantic and, so it goes, the war.
The film is framed using flashbacks from Turing’s interrogation at the time of his arrest. The Official Secrets Act meant that people often managed to keep their work at Bletchley Park secret for half a century, but in this telling Turing sings like a canary.
In reality, the prosecutors were taken aback not by Turing telling them national secrets, but by him going into so much detail about his homosexuality.
Turing insisted he had not done anything wrong and the judge at his trial commented on his “lack of remorse”.
After he had been convicted and while on probation Turing went on holiday to Denmark and began a new relationship.
Throughout the film it is Turing’s oddness that is emphasised. Ok, he was a maths boffin, but he was also gay. This resulted in a deadly wrong being done to him by the state he had served so brilliantly. Not to dramatise this aspect of his life is a missed opportunity on the part of the film makers.
At a time when LGBT people were being rounded up in their thousands in Nazi Germany for their sexuality, Turing, a gay man, contributed considerably to defeating fascism.