This film is based on true events and the 1983 book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. The film is directed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum in his English language debut, and tells the story of the English mathematician Alan Turing, played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch offers one of the strongest performances I’ve seen over the past year, and I believe is worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
The film features a lot of flipping back and forth through Turing’s life and can be confusing figuring out what time frame we are in. It opens in 1951 with an investigation into a burglary at Turing’s home where nothing was stolen. We then go back to 1928 where a young Turing is in boarding school. He is mistreated by most of the boys, and has only one friend, Christopher, who comes to his defense. We see the beginning of Turing’s homosexuality here.
The film then takes us to 1939 where Turing and other cryptographers are stationed in Bletchley Park, a secret location in England that was known to be a radio factory. There we see the socially awkward and incredibly arrogant Turing interview for a position with the stern Commander Denniston, played by Charles Dance. He is eventually selected as a member of the group of cryptographers that will attempt to break the Enigma code used by the Nazis to send messages to each other throughout World War II. Among the others selected were Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode, from The Good Wife) and John Cairncross (Allen Leech from Downton Abbey). Keira Knightley delivers a strong performance as Joan Clarke, the only female chosen to help break the code, and for a short time the fiancée of Turing.
The brilliant Turing envisions building a machine to break the code, rather than manually trying to break the code, which changes daily at midnight. His machine will turn out to be the forerunner of our modern day computers.
While Commander Denniston tries to shut down Turing’s work, Turing has a protector in Stewart Menzies, the head of intelligence. Eventually, the arrogant and hard to like Turing, also wins over the other members of his team as they stand up for him in a key spot in the story.
The story about building a machine to break the code, which Turing names “Christopher” after his boyhood friend, is fascinating. That story plays alongside the story of Turing’s homosexuality, which was illegal in England at that time.
We also hear the following quote three times in the film:
“Sometimes, it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one imagines.”
This is a very well made and acted film about important historical events I was not familiar with, perhaps in part because many of the details were kept classified for fifty years. You may be familiar with the “Turing Test”, a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.
In addition to the storyline of Turing’s homosexuality, God’s and Jesus’ names are abused several times.
There is a lot more to this film, but I don’t want to share any more spoilers. The film is worth seeing because of its historical relevance and Cumberbatch’s strong performance.