This is a very good biopic of Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code and in doing so is believed to have shorted the Second World War by two years. Turing was homosexual, got convicted for gross indecency in 1952, and after being chemically castrated committed suicide.
The film alternates between three periods in Turing’s life: his schooldays, when he has a crush on fellow pupil Christopher, his time at Bletchley Park and his interrogation and arrest in 1951. Most of the film covers his exploits at Bletchley.
Turing was socially awkward and very difficult to work with. Rather than whitewashing this side of Turing’s character the film tackles it head on.
Turing (superbly played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is frank, tactless and unable to understand jokes. Sarcasm is lost on him and he cannot read social cues. This is interpreted by naval commander Alastair Denniston (Turing’s boss at Bletchley, played by Charles Dance) as sheer insolence and is the basis for a number of confrontational scenes in the movie. Turing is also arrogant: people who do not have first-class minds such as his should be fired as they will only be hindrance to those who have. This does not endear Turing to his colleagues at Bletchley.
Turing recruits crossword puzzle winners to his team including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) to whom he is in due course briefly engaged. But his real love is the machine he builds, against considerable opposition, to crack Enigma. This he names Christopher in memory of the school friend he had a crush on.
Little is covered of Turing’s life after Bletchley apart from his interrogation following a robbery at his home. Because Turing is evasive about his war record (having been sworn to secrecy) the police at first suspect him of being a Soviet spy. This causes them to dig deeper and discover his homosexuality.
Though a very good film, there was something lacking to make 5 stars. I put it down to the dialogue. We were told “Sometimes it is the people whom no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” not once, but three times. A colleague advises Turing to keep his sexuality to himself: “You can’t tell anyone, Alan, it’s illegal.” As if Turing wouldn’t know.
There were some liberties with the truth but I could accept these for the purposes of drama and brevity. I felt Keira Knightley hammed it up a bit with her exaggerated Received Pronunciation but otherwise she gave a good portrayal of a blue stocking mathematician. 4 stars.