Movie adds insult to injury in the Turing story

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in the Imitation Game.
Studio Canal/The Weinstein Company

Some disturbing news is emerging about the upcoming film The Imitation Game, about the life of the brilliant mathematician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist, Alan Turing.

Despite his brilliant performance at Bletchley Park, Britain's code-breaking HQ – Winston Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory – was later treated appallingly by the British establishment.

He was prosecuted in 1952 for then-illegal homosexual acts and accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison. Two years later, and two weeks before his 42nd birthday, he was found dead from cyanide poisoning.

It has long been thought he committed suicide, although recently some doubts have been raised about that.

Whatever the truth, it is unarguable that his treatment at the hands of the authorities was disgusting.

So much so, that even the British Government recognised it as such. In 2009, following a long campaign, then-prime minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology for "the appalling way he was treated" and Turing was posthumously pardoned the following year.

Now, a film about his life, The Imitation Game, has apparently decided that this patriotic, brilliant man didn't suffer enough, and has decided to brand him a traitor.

According to The Guardian, the movie insinuates that he agreed not to unmask a Soviet spy in order to keep his sexuality a secret. Guardian reviewer Alex von Tunzelmann writes:

The Imitation Game puts John Cairncross, a Soviet spy and possible “Fifth Man” of the Cambridge spy ring, on Turing’s cryptography team. Cairncross was at Bletchley Park, but he was in a different unit from Turing. As Turing’s biographer Andrew Hodges, on whose book this film is based, has said, it is “ludicrous” to imagine that two people working separately at Bletchley would even have met. Security was far too tight to allow it. In his own autobiography, Cairncross wrote: “The rigid separation of the different units made contact with other staff members almost impossible, so I never got to know anyone apart from my direct operational colleagues.” In the film, Turing works out that Cairncross is a spy; but Cairncross threatens to expose his sexuality. “If you tell him my secret, I’ll tell him yours,” he says.

In fact, according to Von Tunzelmann, the rest of the film is littered with historical inaccuracies and silliness, even if not as defamatory as the claim that Turing was a traitor.

Historically, The Imitation Game is as much of a garbled mess as a heap of unbroken code. For its appalling suggestion that Alan Turing might have covered up for a Soviet spy, it must be sent straight to the bottom of the class.

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