Verity Stob

A Bombe Called Christopher, or A Very Poor Imitation

Verity publishes the real script of Turing biopic The Imitation Game

By Verity Stob


Stob Some weeks ago, on the back of superlative-laced recommendatory posts like this one, I took myself off to the Fosse des Puces high art cinema to see The Imitation Game, the new biopic about Alan "Weird Al" Turing starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Now, I am aware that it is not entirely unknown for Hollywood to apply the odd tweak to history to render its product more palatable, but (with apologies for X-rated imagery coming up) the liberties taken by The Imitation Game extract not only the contents of the bladder but also the containing organ itself and an alarming amount of the surrounding viscera.

As well as rearranging events in a ludicrous way, the movie oozes anachronistic dialogue from every pore, reinterprets wildly the characters of the principals and generally makes free with its source material. I am not alone in such observations.

Thus when this flick triggered an Amber Warning for Oscar nominations, it seemed to me that the only decent thing to be done was to prepare a summary of the flick as I remember it for the benefit of the members of the Academy Awards committee – who are surely devoted El Reg readers to every man and woman.

If occasional minor inaccuracies have sneaked into my account then, well, I am frightfully sorry. But there is ample precedent.

Scene 1: The Mansion House, Bletchley Park, 1939


CUMBERBATCH: Hi, are you good? Is this place Bletchley Park, top secret code breaking establishment founded at the beginning of World War Two? And are you its commanding officer?


CUMBERBATCH: My name is Alan Turing, of 221B King's College, Cambridge. I am the greatest living mathematician in the world. I'm here to win the war for England and her soon-to-be ally the United States.

DANCE sneers evilly: Ha, ha. We'll see about that. You're hired. Meet your fellow workers.

CUMBERBATCH: Uh-oh. Which crossword compiler did you use to recruit them?

DANCE: Torquemada, in the Observer.

CUMBERBATCH: That's not cool. Fire half of them and recruit Keira Knightley instead.

DANCE, sinister: I'm afraid I can't see my way to actioning that forward.

CUMBERBATCH: Then I will so go over your head.

We see CUMBERBATCH return to his room and start writing a letter:

Dear Winston Churchill The Prime Minister,

You don't know me, but...

As he writes, we hear his thoughts in voice-over.

CUMBERBATCH in V/O: Tomorrow I shall design a new code-breaking machine...

DIRECTOR'S VOICE: Lovely, Benedict, but remember you're not just an emotionless Dalek. You are in the lavender band of the autistic spectrum. You are a gay, sensitive, inarticulate, emotionless Dalek. Give it more stammer, darling.

CUMBERBATCH: ...and I shall call it C-C-C-Christopher.

DIRECTOR: Gorgeous.

Scene 2: Flashback to Sherborne School, 1928

A beautiful academic quad with gatehouse, cloisters, the works. YOUNG CUMBERBATCH is being nailed to the wall in proper Tomkinson fashion by a gang of bullies. All are dressed in suitable 1920s gear.

FLASHMAN, LEADER OF THE BULLIES: Say "thank you for very much for nailing me, Flashman".

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: "Nailing me?" No way. Far too gay.

FLASHMAN: Um. Does this also imply that I am not able to refer you as a "fag"? Even if I clearly establish the Tom Brown's School Days sense of "fagging" as tedious work performed under compulsion by Key Stage Three students?

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: Not a hope, sunshine. Not if we are going to have a shot at "Best Picture".

FLASHMAN: Sorry to harp on about this, but aren't you in fact supposed to be gay?

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: A bit g-g-gay, but not too much. Hence Keira Knightley later on. And besides, we aren't really using much period language in this movie.

FLASHMAN: Amazeballs.

Exit Flashman, topper correctly on head, clicking his fingers and swinging his silver-topped selfie stick as though to the beat of an iGramophone.

HEADMASTER, approaching: I say, Turing, stop fannying about on that wall. I want a word with you about Christopher.


HEADMASTER: Yes. He's in your science set.

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: He's not my friend. I'm not in love with him.

HEADMASTER: Whatever, dude. It has come to my notice that you were passing notes to Christopher in Mr Hypothetical's maths class the other day.

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: My bad. But they were notes encrypted with a cipher. I am liking ciphers a lot. That will become significant later on.

HEADMASTER: Obvs. However, I do want you to apologise to Mr Hypothetical.

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: Sure, Headmaster.

HEADMASTER: Sweet. I'm glad we cleared that up. You may go. Oh and by the way, your friend Christopher died tragically and unexpectedly during the vacation of an unusual, cough-less, bovine tuberculosis.

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: He's not my friend.

HEADMASTER: Off to triple Latin, then, you scallywag!

YOUNG CUMBERBATCH: Can he say "scallywag"?

Scene 3: Hut in Bletchley Park, 1941

The hut is full of activity. Various SIDEKICKS attend to the workings of the Bombe, study slips of paper, look things up in dictionaries, smoke their pipes and fix their dottle stops. CUMBERBATCH is sitting at his desk, consulting his own paper Upon Computable Numbers and the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.

A bell rings.

CUMBERBATCH: That's it. It's midnight. The Germans have changed their cipher. Everybody stop what they are doing and put down their pens. Nothing we can do now until tomorrow morning when we get a new crop of intercepts, encoded with today's new rotor settings.

SIDEKICK: But I've nearly decoded this message. Only one cypher group to go!

CUMBERBATCH: Too late. Tear it up.

SIDEKICK: There's no reason to abruptly halt all decoding of existing material at midnight. The intelligence is still valid.

CUMBERBATCH: Last one out the hut, switch off C-C-C-Christopher.

SIDEKICK: It will only take about 10 minutes.

CUMBERBATCH: I won't tell you again.

Exit SIDEKICK. The head of MI6 appears, and accosts CUMBERBATCH.

HEAD OF MI6: Good evening. I'm the head of MI6. I'm here to arrest you as a traitor, Turing.

CUMBERBATCH, warmly: I'm not the traitor. It's C-C-C-Cairncross who is the traitor.

HEAD OF MI6: Fair enough. Well spotted. Good night.

CUMBERBATCH: What? Wait a minute. Do you mean to say that you know already? Aren't you going to arrest C-C-C-Cairncross?

HEAD OF MI6, amused: Of course we know. Arrest him? Why on Earth should I do that? No, he's much safer where he is, betraying all our secrets to the Russians.

CUMBERBATCH: But he is part of the Cambridge Ring that includes Burgess, Maclean and Philby, and makes British Intelligence a laughing stock for 30 years. Surely you must act.

HEAD OF MI6: What, and lose those lovely Alan Bennett plays? I should think not. We play a long game, here at Six.

CUMBERBATCH, whining: What does that even mean?

Scene 4: Same hut, the next day

CUMBERBATCH is doing "thinking" acting while studying a crossword. A clue wafts onto the screen, Moffat-style.

1. This Heli-hilter won't fly, but it's a common Nazi greeting (4, 6). (Anagram)

CUMBERBATCH: I've got it.

SIDEKICK: Got what?

CUMBERBATCH: In order to break the Enigma encryption, we need a sample of known text. The Germans always end all their messages with "Heil Hitler", so we can just use that.

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, not being sarcastic: Alan, fancy noticing that after just a mere two years of war and countless thousands of messages. Even for you, that's brilliant.

CUMBERBATCH: Yes it is. And is it not ironic that the very device that the Nazis use to bind together their culture also turns out to be their key weakness?

KNIGHTLEY, still gushing: Neato. Well done, lover.

CUMBERBATCH: And, by the way, I am not going to marry you, you c-c-cow. I was just exploiting you for your brains. What is it, Hugh?

SIDEKICK, dialling a telephone: Using the technique just mentioned, I have rapidly decrypted some U-boat attack orders on a mid-Atlantic convoy which is to occur in fifteen minutes. There's just time to scramble a squadron of Spitties up from Biggin Hill to prevent a disaster.

CUMBERBATCH, cutting SIDEKICK off: No, you mustn't do that.

SIDEKICK: But you don't grok it, man. By a remarkable coincidence my only kid brother is on that particular convoy. We've got to stop the attack.

CUMBERBATCH: No way, Jose.

SIDEKICK: And Glenn Miller is aboard. And Rudolph Hess.

CUMBERBATCH: Doesn't change the plan, my man Juan.

SIDEKICK, shocked, bothered and bewildered: But why?

EDDIE IZZARD, who has just come in: I think I can explain.

SIDEKICK, startled: Who the feck are you?

IZZARD: I am the implausibly named Robert Watson-Watt. I invented radar. I feature in the BBC/OU co-pro film Castles in the Sky, which has essentially the same plot as this script: oddball, misfit inventor single-handedly wins the war, in the teeth of British military opposition.


IZZARD, patiently: If I shorten the war by two years, and Alan here also shortens it by two years...

CUMBERBATCH: At least three years...

SIDEKICK, finally getting there: Oh, I see. There'll be no proper war left for anybody to fight. And, more importantly, make movies about.

CUMBERBATCH: Right. So we both have to keep our benign influence down to 18 months or so. All that remains now is for us two to thrash out the spoils for posterity. You'll be the more obscure one, Robert, because of your silly name. I'll eventually get all the plaudits and the statues, especially if my life should happen to end tragically.

SIDEKICK: Just one moment, you two. What about me, Tommy Flowers?

CUMBERBATCH: I thought your name was Hugh.

IZZARD, dismissively: What did you invent? The upside-down hovercraft?

SIDEKICK: The first proper, working computer, actually.

CUMBERBATCH, in full Sherlock mode: What about the curious incident of Tommy's reputation in peace-time?

FLOWERS: My reputation was as nothing in peace-time.

TUTTI, to camera: That was the curious incident. ®

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