The Imitation Game is a 2014 American historical drama film directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore, based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. It tells about British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence messages for the British government during the Second World War.
The screenplay topped the annual Black List for best unproduced Hollywood scripts in 2011. The Weinstein Company acquired the film for $7 million in February 2014, the highest amount ever paid for U.S. distribution rights at the European Film Market. It was released theatrically in the United States on 28 November 2014.
The Imitation Game grossed over $233 million worldwide on a $14 million production budget, making it the highest-grossing independent film of 2014. It received eight nominations at the 87th Academy Awards, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay, five nominations in the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, and three nominations at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards. It also received nine BAFTA nominations and won the People’s Choice Award at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival.
Despite the great success of the film, the film was criticised by some for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events. And here, we’re going to get the facts straight. How is the truth behind The Imitation Game? Which one is fact and which one is fiction? L. V Anderson, a blog writer said ” I discovered that The Imitation Game takes major liberties with its source material, injecting conflict where none existed, inventing entirely fictional characters, rearranging the chronology of events, and misrepresenting the very nature of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park. At the same time, the film might paint Turing as being more unlovable than he actually was.”
The Alan Turing played by Benedict Cumberbatch is brusque, humorless, and brilliant. In an early scene where he is interviewed by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), we learn that he made exceptional achievements in mathematics at a young age. In reality, Turing was elected as a fellow at Cambridge at the age of 22, and he published his most influential paper, “On Computable Numbers,” at 24.
Other aspects of Cumberbatch’s characterization are true to life, as well Turing was fairly indifferent to politics, both in the interpersonal sense and in the civic sense. He ran marathons. He was also gay, and even more openly than the film implies.
Alan Turing was gay at a time when homesexual activity was outlawed in England. In 1952, he was convicted of “gross indecency.” (He admitted to being gay but pled not guilty because he thought the law was unjust.) He was sentenced to probation that involved chemical castration (see more below) and committed suicide within two years with cyanide.
Consensual sex between two men remained illegal until 1967 in England. To avoid prison, Turing accepted treatment with estrogen, chemical castration meant to neutralize his libido. Gay men were considered a security risk to the government because they were open to blackmail, so Turing lost his security clearance. Turing died on June 7, 1954. He was found with a partly-eaten apple, and many biographers have posited it was laced with cyanide. But the autopsy found four ounces of cyanide in Turing’s stomach, suggesting he drank the poison and ate the apple to make the experience more palatable.
The filmmakers decided not to include the suicide in the movie even though they filmed the scene. Benedict Cumberbatch explained to the press at New York City’s 92Y that in the film’s last scene, “Someone [is] telling [Turing] something he never had told to him in his life: That he did matter — the fact that he was regarded as different and not normal was hugely important to the world and to everybody around him. No one had told him that in his life. So to end it on that note, with someone explaining, was our way of thanking him in the structure of the film, our eulogy to him.”
Alan Turing’s first love, Christopher, died at a young age. Christopher, an older student at Sherborne School in Dorset, was also interested in math. Turing harbored feelings toward Christopher, though Turing believed his love was not reciprocated. In the movie, Turing learns of Christopher’s death after-the-fact from his headmaster. In reality, Turing had been told his friend was sick and to prepare for the worst before Christopher passed.
Christopher’s death did spur Turing to pursue mathematics in the hope that he could understand whether part of Christopher could somehow live on without his body. In the year after his death, Turing wrote an essay in which he discussed how the soul might survive after death with a nod to the new field of quantum mechanics.
However, the central conceit of The Imitation Game—that Turing singlehandedly invented and physically buil the machine that broke the Germans’ Enigma code—is simply untrue. A predecessor of the “Bombe”—the name given to the large, ticking machine that used rotors to test different letter combinations—was invented by Polish cryptanalysts before Turing even began working as a cryptologist for the British government. Turing’s great innovation was to design a new machine that broke the Enigma code faster by looking for likely letter combinations and ruling out combinations that were unlikely to yield results. Turing didn’t develop the new, improved machine by dint of his own singular genius—the mathematician Gordon Welchman, who is not even mentioned in the film, collaborated with Turing on the design.
Leaving aside Turing’s codebreaking achievements, The Imitation Game also somewhat alters Turing’s personality. The film strongly implies that Alan is somewhere on the autism spectrum Cumberbatch’s character doesn’t understand jokes, takes common expressions literally, and seems indifferent to the suffering and annoyance he causes in others. This characterization is rooted in Hodge’s biography but is also largely exaggerated: Hodges never suggests that Turing was autistic, and though he refers to Turing’s tendency to take contracts and other bureaucratic red tape literally, he also describes Turing as a man with a keen sense of humor and close friends. One of Turing’s colleagues at Bletchley Park later recalled him as “a very easily approachable man” and said “we were very very fond of him”; none of this is reflected in the film.
In addition to the more significant creative liberties that the movie takes, there are small fictions surrounding his character in the movie. Although, in the movie, Alan tells Denniston that he doesn’t know German, Turing did in fact study German and travel to Germany before and after the war.