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  • The Imitation Game August 23, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback

    The Imitation Game

    The earliest and greatest British victory in the Second World War (building on crucial Polish breakthroughs) was the breaking of the new German code machine Enigma, 22 May 1940, just as the British Expeditionary Force was being surrounded by the Wehrmacht in France. For those of an academic persuasion the achievement is particularly sweet because this was not men with six packs and grenades, but geeks who were good at crosswords, working in pre-fab huts at Bletchley Park. It has been argued that years were shaved off the Second World War as a result: and given that Britain and America knew most German moves before they were carried out this might not be an exaggeration.

    At the very centre of the myth of Bletchley Park is Alan Turing, the man who led the efforts to create a computer (the best word) capable of solving Enigma. Turing’s story is a wonderful choice for a film and two now exist. The latest, The Imitation Game, was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2014, scoring 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, usually an indication of quality. Father-in-Law wept in the cinema on seeing it and other friends and relations have proved enthusiastic.

    In fact, it is dreadful. Historical films necessarily play fast and loose with the characters they shuffle around the board: this one claims to be ‘based on an incredible true story’. But Alan Turing is reduced from a solitary but kind and charitable individual (as dozens of reports attest) into an obnoxious genius who cannot relate to others.  Maybe ‘autistic’ Turing was a lazy way of showing that Turing was clever: clever people are rude, of course, and cannot be bothered with others’ feelings (in Beach’s experience this applies much better to artists and creatives but no contradicting the vox populi). It also helps that the director got Benedict Cumberbatch, an actor for whom the role seems to have been written. Rather less happy was Keira Knightley cast as a female nerd: something obscene about photo models trying to be mousy intellectual sorts.

    Nor was the director satisfied with making Turing into a human robot. He also made him into a traitor. Turing realizes that one of his team, John Cairncross is passing on secrets to the Russians and Cairncross blackmails Turing into not telling anyone (using Turing’s homosexuality against him). Now this little fairytale is nonsense, of course. Cairncross, a Soviet double agent, never worked with Turing, nor did the two apparently know each other. However, the film suggests that Turing who had done everything possible to break Enigma would have put his own interests before that of his country. Somewhere in the background is that very sad, very corrosive British belief that helping Stalin’s Russia was a minor misdemeanor. Don’t believe? Cairncross never spent a day in prison for the murderous crimes he committed…

    Other topoi are trotted out and banged up and down a bit like Pacific island idols. There is an awful scene where, after the ecstasy of breaking Enigma, Turing and his team realize that a British convoy is about to be torpedoed by a wolf pack in mid Atlantic. Turing’s colleagues decide to save the lives of innocents – it is a passenger convoy! – but Turing says no. It is vital that the Germans do not realize that Enigma has been broken. This is a discount version of the Churchill myth about Coventry: that Churchill allowed Coventry to be bombed because it was better that a few thousand Britons die than that the Luftwaffe realized that their codes had been broken. Turing gets punched in the face as he bravely tries to speak truth to sentiment, and then learns that the brother of one of his assistants is sailing on one of those vessels. What are the chances!

    Beach doesn’t normally waste time on negative reviews. But it is summer and half the readership is away so he thought he’d get this off his chest. Contrary views: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    23 Aug 2015: Filip writes in furious ‘Oh, fuck, Dr. Beachcombing, I should challenge you to a duel or something. “Breaking of the German code machine Enigma” being only a “British” victory, now, that’s a myth. Enigma code was first broken in the 1930s by Polish mathematicians, they even built first code-breaking machines; more computational power was needed for the Enigma upgraded in 1938 and that’s when Alan Turing and Bletchley Park stepped in. And it’s always the same… for all the war effort of Polish men (and a bear), you, British bastards, sell us to Joseph Stalin.  … yes, it’s always been the same. Just a couple of days ago, all Europe should have been celebrating the 95th anniversary of my countrymen stopping Mordor on their way to Cork. Not having to have a bullet in your skull in ОГПУ Лондон, not having to write a panegyric to “Our Darling, Our Guiding Star”, not having to stand in a queue for a suite of thrash furniture over two long winter nights does not seem a sufficient reason.

    CORRECTED! see above

    29 Aug 2015: LTM writes “This is a discount version of the Churchill myth about Coventry: that Churchill allowed Coventry to be bombed because it was better that a few thousand Britons die than that the Luftwaffe realized that their codes had been broken.” Check this link. Southern Man writes in with another comment. There are three films on enigma: Enigma (2001); Breaking the Code (1995) and of course Imitation

    30 Sept 2015: Bast writes: Thought I’d let you know of another Enigma Machine movie: U-571 ( http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/u571/ ) in which the Americans find an enigma machine on a submarine [despite it being based on a British-German event, Beach!]. “Based on true events”, from what I vaguely remember pasted on at the end of the film. Hope this finds you and the Missus and family well! Bast