Saturday, February 7, 2015

Oscars 2014: Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing
The Imitation Game (U.K., 2014) directed by Morten Tyldum, 113 minutes

Eight Oscar Nominations
Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Actress in a Supporting Role (Keira Knightley)
Best Picture
Film Editing
Music (Original Score)
Production Design
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

On September 14, 2014 this film was chosen for the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival - always a good omen for Oscar nominated films!

It is only now being revealed how Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a highly gifted Cambridge mathematician, worked with a band of mathematical geniuses, including its sole female participant Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), to crack the Nazis' Engima code and effectively helped end World War II. When war was declared in 1939, Turing was tapped to become a member of a top-secret group under MI6 which was assigned the task of decoding German naval communications at the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.
The Enigma machine enabled its operator to type a message, then ‘scramble’ it using a letter substitution system, generated by variable rotors and an electric circuit. To decode the message, the recipient needed to know the exact settings of the wheels. (Source:

Bletchley Park housed the Government Code and Cypher School where specially selected personnel chosen by the British government devised methods to enable the Allies to decipher military codes/ciphers utilized in covert communications between German, Japanese, and other Axis nations. Bletchley Park is recognized as the birthplace of the information age enabled by machines such as the Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer.

Turing and Joan Clarke become close friends despite his prickly and off-putting nature and in order that she be able remain working in this all male establishment without conjecture, the couple were engaged to be married despite the fact that Turing was gay at a time when it was illegal to be openly homosexual.

Within two years the code was cracked but the government concealed this revelation as it would have caused the Germans to change their coding system. It continued to conceal this information until well after the war. Turing's work presaged the creation of computers which he worked towards after the war.

Cumberbatch is rightly recognized as an actor who is able to play any role and here he does not disappoint. Turing is portrayed as quirky, erudite, mercurial, and self-involved but eminently brilliant.

Turing's role was unknown and unrecognized after the war. The group was ordered to destroy all documentation when the war ended. In the early 1950s, Turing was arrested for indecency and was ordered to undergo chemical castration. He did so in lieu of imprisonment but within two years he committed suicide with the aid of cyanide. Who knows what he might have gone on to create if he had lived. 

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized on behalf of the British government and the Queen granted him a posthumous pardon on December 24, 2013. It's a remarkable story that brought us both (my husband and I) to tears at its end.

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