In the interests of full disclosure, Alan Turing has been a hero of mine ever since college. This movie focuses primarily on the events surrounding Project Ultra and the breaking of the Enigma machine code. This film can be watched in isolation without knowing much about the great man, but knowing anything about him greatly adds to the movie. Alan Turing was not an easy man to work with due to his character, but by all accounts a person who could be worked with, once you got to know him.
The subject of this film was a state secret until the 1970’s and it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that his work here was fully appreciated. The title of the movie is taken from one of his pre-war papers on machine intelligence. I should at this stage point out that Alan Turing is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Computing, bio-mathematics and is credited with building the first machine that we today would consider a computer. His untimely death at the age of 41 has left the world wondering what more could he have achieved.
The cast is first-class and lead by Benedict Cumberbatch (August Osage County, 2013), who plays a powerful Turing, even down to the cheekbones. Cumberbatch through his Sherlock has proven to be an actor capable of pulling off the most complex characterisations. The difficulty with Turing is that he is a real person, with mannerisms remembered by people so no room for movement. This is also seen in how the movie treats history itself.
Credit must be given to the Director Morten Tyldum (Head Hunters 2012) and writers Andrew Hodges (the book) and Graham Moore (screenplay) for managing even if only by reference to place other factors in to the movie. We see the work of the Polish Scientist of the 1920s in breaking an earlier version being used as inspiration. Even to the end we can see posters and sketches on his wall at home which relate to the pioneering work he did on the mathematical theory of embryology.
Keira Knightly (London Boulevard, 2010) give a bravura performance of the hard put-upon Joan Clarke, the only woman in the group – who had to be kept secret and apart from the rest of the all-male group. Indeed the movie also handles well the undercurrent of prejudices and morals which prevailed at that time. She manages to play perfectly against his character, the two of them working well together. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, 2011-2015 plays the part of Commander Denniston, the officer in charge of Bletchley Park and the person who has to fight against Turing. The humour of the situation is seen in one of the run-ins Turing and Denniston have; asked who was the Commander’s commanding officer, Denniston replies “Churchill”, Turing promptly contacts him to argue his case.
Matthew Goode plays Hugh Alexander, the man who was originally to lead the decryption efforts, but was replaced by Turing, here we see the personalities at work and how they can come together. The use of Mark Strong (Robin Hood, 2010) as the MI6 officer overseeing the activities is an interesting dramatic trick as it allows us to place the Ultra efforts within the overall theatre of war. There are emotional scenes when the team realise they cannot warn potential victims of what they found, because it would give away their secret, this has been an interesting ethics question for many years and nicely and succinctly done here.
We know the story, so there is no need to go through the plot. The story of Turing’s personal life is largely told through flashbacks and flash-forwards to when he is being investigated. If I have a tiny criticism it is how they try to make out that the arrest originated from the police wondering what he had to hide, given his blank (deliberately emptied) war record, was he another of those Communist spies? This movie showed the scientific and technical brilliance of Turing, giving the audience just enough of the technical knowledge necessary (judging by the age profile of the cinema audience where I saw it, I suspect most of the audience was already very familiar with the technicalities).
Overall an affecting movie which despite what might be considered by some (not me) to be a rather boring subject matter, you will be swept up in the progress of the film, you will get to know the characters and you will wait to see the machine working.
The campaign to pardon Turing and have him take his place in history has been active for many years, this hopefully will go some way to giving the great man the recognition he deserves.
A good, fast-flowing movie that cleverly gives the audience a look at these historic events and people without flooding us with technicality. This shows the top-secret work of a small group of people, perhaps never really expected to succeed, and certainly not achieve what they did. Excellent movie. 8/10