Winston Churchill said that Alan Turing made the single biggest individual contribution to the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany. Manchester’s incredibly proud of the work that Turing did on developing computers at the University of Manchester. Yet he committed suicide, aged just 41, after being put on a “chemical castration” programme of hormonal treatment because he was gay. What an amazing man, what an amazing mind, and what a tragic end … and what a travesty that a man who did so much should have been treated in that way. You couldn’t make it up. You don’t have to, because it’s true.
I’ve seen this film described as a “thriller” and a “spy film”. It isn’t really either. It’s mainly about Turing’s work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, the breaking of the Enigma code and the lesser-known fact that, horrifically, Turing and his colleagues had to decide which signals to act on, because acting on all of them would have made it clear to the Nazis that the code had been broken. However, it also shows a little of Turing’s life after the war, quite a bit about his schooldays and the important relationship he formed with another boy, who sadly died of TB, and a lot about the issues he had in forming relationships with other people. The film is about Alan Turing.
This is my specialist period of history, but I understand that there have been some criticisms made of the film. One is that it focuses too much on Turing’s relationship with his colleague Joan Clarke, to whom he was engaged for a while, and that it romanticises it too much. I don’t think that it does. They were indeed engaged for a while, and the film makes it clear that it wasn’t a great romance and that it wasn’t about physical/sexual attraction. There’s also been some criticism that it doesn’t focus enough on his identity as a gay man, but how could it? He couldn’t have formed a romantic relationship with another man whilst he was at Bletchley, otherwise he’d have been … well, not just sacked, but probably prosecuted as well. Horrifically wrong as that seems now, it is how it was at the time. There’ve also been concerns raised about the fact that the film shows that Turing was suspected of being a spy, but I understand that there were concerns about spies infiltrating Bletchley Park.
My own one moan is the use of expressions such as “You’re fired,” “We should talk” and the Americanised “talk with” (rather than “talk to”)! That’s not a very big moan. There isn’t much to moan about, but there’s much to praise. It’s an excellent film, about a man who sadly only received the recognition he so richly deserved many years too late. And it’s not just him – let’s remember all of those who did such important, and unacknowledged, work at Bletchley Park, and also all of those who were prosecuted, and either imprisoned or subjected to the treatment which Turing went through, just because they happened to be gay.
This is an important film, and also a very entertaining one. Don’t miss it.