Hindsight is a wonderful thing and those were different times are well-worn cliches and excuses, but what happened to Alan Turing really does beggar belief.
We saw The Imitation Game last night, a profoundly moving true story of a gifted mathematician who broke the Nazi Enigma code and, as a result, made a significant contribution to shortening and winning the Second World War.
His thanks? He was offered the choice of a two year prison sentence or chemical castration, after being convicted for being a homosexual, illegal in those relatively recent times.
Alan Turing committed suicide a year into the hormone treatment. He was 41.
Growing up, he was destined to be an outsider. More brilliant than his contemporaries, arrogant, socially inept and gay, he was never going to conform.
I haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch in anything before, but here he portrays Alan Turin’s anguished isolation perfectly.
Working during the war at the secret Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park, he has a confrontational relationship with Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston, his boss. And in the shadows lurks Mark Strong’s Stewart Menzies, a calculating MI6 spymaster pulling the strings of various characters like a master puppeteer.
Keira Knightley plays her usual posh English girl, but with real depth as Joan Clarke, another naturally gifted mathematician who joins the Enigma team.
Joan and Alan fall in love with each others’ minds. She helps him to smooth out some of his rough antisocial edges. They become engaged in order to keep her at Bletchley, after she has been summoned back to her parents to marry her off. More evidence of how quickly social attitudes have changed.
The action flips between 1951, when Alan’s Manchester home has been broken into; 1928 when he’s at boarding school; and during WW2, in a desperate race against time to break the code as the Germans threaten to gain naval superiority.
This is a fine film, well directed by Morten Tyldum and sympathetically acted by a strong cast at the top of their game.
But above all, it’s about an outsider who helped to save a nation, but who was then condemned by the misguided morality of the time.
In 2013 the Queen signed a royal pardon for Alan Turing’s criminal conviction.