(Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, “The Imitation Game”, Black Bear Pictures, 2014)
Being a librarian, Cal often brings DVDs home, and no prizes for guessing what last night’s offering was…
I can definitely recommend this film, though it plays fast and loose with actual history something awful. One could almost call it the “Braveheart” of computing and cryptography, though any association of ideas between the ultraconservative Mel Gibson and the tragic, inadvertent gay rights icon / martyr who was Alan Turing seems all too ironic. Still, strict accuracy does not seem to be the point. It is the more emotional significance of Turing’s life (and death) that the film-makers were clearly eager to emphasise, not to mention the gross injustice of his fate.
To anyone unaware, Alan Turing (1912-54) was a pioneering computer genius whose work at Bletchley Park enabled the British to finally crack Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma cipher, thus providing intelligence that substantially shortened the Second World War and probably saved millions of lives. He was also homosexual, in a time when that was illegal. Though he managed to keep that fact secret throughout the war, it was discovered by the police in 1952, and Turing was offered a choice of two punishments: prison, or hormonal “therapy” to “cure” him of his tendencies (by crudely and dangerously diminishing his libido). Two years later, he died from cyanide poisoning, though theories abound as to whether or not this was suicide or accidental. At all events, the UK government only got round to apologising for this miscarriage of justice in 2009, with a royal pardon being issued in 2013. However, as the end sequence of the film states, Turing was only one of an estimated 49,000 gay men convicted under those laws before legalisation (in 1967).
Possibly it was that grim statistic, and the extreme belatedness of the apology, which brought Cal to angry tears as the credits rolled:
“It took them all those years to apologise,” he declared, bitterly, “and in 2015 GPs are still saying they need to ‘sort us out’!”
Confused now, I asked him what he meant. He explained that last month, when he had visited the gender identity clinic in London for a workshop event, one of the specialist doctors there had told him of a referral he had recently had for an MtF transsexual patient. The patient’s GP had worded the referral thusly:
This man thinks he ought to be woman. Sort him out.
I didn’t really have a reply to that.
Some days, though, I am very glad I cannot read minds.