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The Imitation Game

The imitation Game

We rarely do film reviews – mainly because we rarely see films that are relevant – but the Imitation Game is about Alan Turing, the breaking of the German Enigma code and the invention of the computer. Or is it?

Turing was a mathematical genius, probably well along the Asperger’s spectrum, worked as a code-breaker, was gay, and whether he invented the computer or was the catalyst that helped others define a computer, is one of history’s great debates.

The film works through flashbacks from 1952, when he is being interrogated for homosexual acts – then illegal – to around 1940 and the Bletchley Park code breaking centre and also to 1929/30 when he was at school. While the film may have some aspects of Turing as a person correct, (although downplaying his sexuality) the writer felt it necessary to over-dramatise events. So while Turing was already working on cryptography and the German Enigma machine in 1939, he is shown as arrogantly demanding to work at Bletchley in 1940. He hand builds the first Bombe, appealing to Churchill for support to complete it. He was indeed part of a group who appealed to Churchill for more resources, but only after they had had a number of Bombes built by professional engineers, and used them to break codes wanted more to keep up with the flood of messages.

However the film avoids the incredible crudity of the film U-571, in which a US warship is shown retrieving code books and Enigma machine from a German U-boat in 1942.  The incident was based on reality – just. Sailors from HMS Bulldog retrieved an Enigma and code books from U-110 in April 1941.

It barely mentions that he died of self-inflicted cyanide poisoning, rather than continue with the chemical castration. With all the caveats, it is an entertaining way to spend around two hours. Then go out and read about the real Turing. http://www.turing.org.uk is a good starting point.


And the film title? The Imitation Game is Turing’s own name for what we would now call the Turing Test. i.e. Can you, through question and answer, conclude if you are talking to a human or a computer?

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