Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley
(PG-13, 114 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama
"Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." –Christopher, childhood friend of Alan Turing
Meet Alan Turing, the eccentric genius who cracked the infamous Nazi Enigma Code and probably shortened World War II by 2 to 4 years. Benedict Cumberbatch embodies all the arrogant awkwardness of the socially backward mathematician with his own acting genius as well.
As tense and suspenseful as the true events are in themselves, the filmmakers have decided to take the path less traveled by. Sure, we cheer on the team of cryptologists as they try to unlock the cipher to a small black box that looks somewhat like a manual typewriter, but it is Alan Turing himself who is the ultimate Enigma Machine.
We are introduced to Turing, the social outcast, before meeting the genius within. His reaction to an apparent break-in at his apartment in 1952 is so peculiar– he continues to sweep up particles from the floor and barely acknowledges the police who are there to investigate – that they investigate him further. This framing device sets up flashbacks to a childhood at public school where he is bullied mercilessly by his peers. One time they even bury him under a wooden floor, nailing him in.
A single kind classmate rescues him and they form a tight friendship, communicating in a code they devise among themselves. Here we are also introduced to Turing’s future homosexuality in a coded message he writes Christopher: “I love you.”
The socially awkward scientist is also a theme in The Theory of Everything, the other Oscar contender about Stephen Hawking, world-renowned theoretical physicist and heir to Einstein. Yet, compared to Turing, Hawking is a social butterfly, wooing, and wedding fellow Cambridge student Jane, even as the first hints of Lou Gehrig’s disease begin to debilitate him. Some might argue that Turing’s introverted nature and unconventional sexual proclivities are as debilitating for him as the disease is for Hawking.
Hawking has his Jane, but Turing has Joan, (Kiera Knightley), a true friend and colleague who also works at Bletchely Park, the central site of England’s Government Code and Cypher School. In fact, she is recruited there by Turing himself, who “interviews” possible code breakers by publishing a crossword in the newspaper. In the final test, she is able to finish the puzzle in 5 minutes 34 seconds. Turing himself can only manage it in 8 minutes.
Joan betters Alan in other ways as well. She has the inherent charm and likeability he so painfully lacks. Turing prefers to work alone, and shuns his fellow cryptologists. "I prefer to work alone," he says. "The others would only slow me down." Joan sees that imperious self-reliance as a flaw.
"You're going to need all the help you can get and they are not going to help you if they do not like you."
When Turing dutifully disperses apples to all his perplexed colleagues, more like a trained dog than anything else, he has to explain that he is following Joan’s instructions to get them to like him. Somehow, the clumsy effort pays off, and when his impatient director wants to fire Turing for not getting results, the rest of the group threatens to quit.
Given more time, Turing builds his own machine to unlock the German Enigma Machine. It is probably the world’s first computer, a large tangle of wires and gears, and it finally “hacks” the Nazi code. Even then, the triumph is muted, as Turing bloodlessly concludes that they must use their information cautiously, or the enemy will realize the code has been breached and stop using the machine to communicate. Thus, they can only use the decoded information sparingly, deploying an exact calculus set up to shorten the war without giving away their breakthrough.
Perhaps all those years playing Homes in the BBC’s Sherlock, an arrogant genius who wears both those labels proudly, makes this character a natural extension for Cumberbatch. He is a marvel in his role. In Different Drummer’s estimation Cumberbatch is just shy of Eddie Redmayne’s phenomenal portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
In a time when most of our so-called heroes are celebrities who merely entertain us with their musical, acting, or athletic prowess, isn’t it about time to honor some real heroes who have changed the world?
Put The Imitation Game as well as The theory of Everything on your must see list right now.
Thanks to Joan, Turing no longer eats his lunch alone at his desk. He even ventures to the pub with colleagues he now calls friends. Let’s treat this tight little group to an all time English favorite, a simple little dish they probably whipped up at the local pub called Bangers and Mash.
See this recipe and other English favorites in Different Drummer’s own little book, Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook, available through this website.
Bangers and Mash
1 tablespoon oil
8 thick sausages
2 medium onions, sliced
2 tablespoons gravy powder
1 1/2 cups water
4 medium potatoes
2 tablespoons milk
1 ounce butter
Salt and pepper
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish
Prick the sausages with a fork. Heat oil in a large heavy-based frying pan; add sausages. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until they are brown and cooked through. Transfer sausages to a plate covered with a paper towel.
Pour off most of the fat from pan, leaving about a tablespoon. Add onions and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until soft and golden. Combine gravy powder with water in a jug; stir until smooth. Add to pan; stir to combine with onions. Stir gravy constantly over a medium low heat for 2 minutes or until mixture boils and thickens. Return sausages to pan. Combine with gravy and serve immediately with mash.
To make mash, cook potatoes in a large pan on boiling water until tender; drain well. Mash with a potato masher until free from lumps. Add milk and butter; blend with a fork until smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle chopped parsley over potatoes to serve.