The Imitation Game: Bringing Alan Turing's classified life to light
El Reg talks to the film's writer, director and actors about Britain's unsung hero
Interview For director Morten Tyldum and writer Graham Moore, the life of Alan Turing is about more than the fact that he was gay, or that he was a genius or that he was one of the keepers of arguably the biggest secret of World War II. Both film-makers agree that Turing’s story is about outsiders and how being an outsider can be exactly what’s needed.
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” Alan’s boyhood friend Christopher Morcom tells him, in a line that’s repeated throughout the movie.
Without any film or audio recordings of Turing, just letters, biographies and the recollections of people who met him when they themselves were just children, Tyldum and Moore set out to try to tell the story of a man whose life was shrouded in secrecy. Not only was Turing’s most famous work – breaking the German Enigma code during World War II – so top secret that it remained classified for forty years, he was also forced to hide the fact that he was homosexual during a time when expressing that was still outlawed in Britain.
“If this was all fiction and we tried to sell it as fiction, people would say, 'This is too thick, this didn’t happen, this story is too unbelievable',” Tyldum told The Register.
“But it’s all there, his life was so fascinating – everything he did and how he was put in the middle of all this secrecy and these high end games. And it’s such an important story to tell because there’s so many people who don’t know anything about him, he’s such an unsung hero, it’s a humbling experience to be part of this and to spread his legacy.”
Watch actors Matthew Beard and Allen Leech talk Alan Turing, hard sums and Jay Z with El Reg
Moore said that the thing that drew him to Turing as a character was how much he was separated from those around him.
“He was so different from everyone around him because he was one of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th Century, he was just smarter than anyone else around him. He had these revolutionary ideas that were decades ahead of their time. And he was a gay man at a time when a kiss between two men was literally punishable with two years in prison.
“He was separated from everyone else around him by so many things, that was what I found most captivating and we talked about trying to convey that in every scene,” he said.
Plaudits abound for The Imitation Game, both the film and the performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. But critics (and your Reg hack) have also pointed to some issues in the representation of Turing as a genius and as a homosexual.
While many of Turing’s reported eccentricities could be read as potentially indicative of autism or Asperger’s syndrome, those kinds of diagnoses weren’t readily available at the time so framing him as such is not entirely accurate. Indeed, because it’s such a trend in Hollywood at the moment to equate genius with issues like these, hamming up his eccentricities comes across as a bit of movie-fication of his life.
But Tyldum insists that they didn’t want to put any sort of label on Turing’s character.
“From a lot of the research we did, we had people say that he probably had some version of autism or Asperger’s or something like that, but we deliberately said that we didn’t want to portray him as [that]. Because the whole movie is a movie that tries to celebrate outsiders, celebrate those who are different, those who think differently and how important they are, they shouldn’t be labelled as somebody with a diagnosis or a disease or anything like that. To me it’s more important that he was just a unique person,” he said.