I doubt very much that the Spartacus-like scene which appears halfway through this film: ‘if you fire Alan, you’ll have to fire me too’ really happened.
However, I have visited Bletchley Park and I have become quite familiar with the story of Alan Turing, who was probably our cleverest scientist here in Britain in the war, and who fell foul of the indecency laws in place in the time against practising homosexuals.
The story was covered in an earlier play for television called ‘Breaking the Code‘ – itself adapted from a 1986 stage play – in which Derek Jacobi played Turing, and in which his eventual death was definitely flag-posted as suicide.
Here, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing in his usual detached and mannered style, and the chronology hops and skips from glimpses of Turing as a child, of his war work at Bletchley, and of his eventual persecution by the police (who initially believe him to be a spy).
Some of the artistic licence is ridiculous though – Turing was not a solo worker at Bletchley, nor was his machine creation named after a childhood friend he had a crush on; there was no conflict with commanders who wanted to fire Turing and his collaborators; his relationship with Joan Clarke was not a romantic one; Turing was not autistic (perhaps Cumberbatch is so stuck on his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes he got confused?); no-one ever thought he was a spy; and it is by no means clear that Turing’s death was suicide, despite it being stated as such here.
Perhaps the worst changes to the historical record are the blackmail plot involving John Cairncross (now thought to be the fifth ‘Cambridge spy’) and the depiction of Turing’s mental deterioration following his chemical castration. These are regrettable, but the fact that a major film was produced about a major LGBT figure and received Oscar nominations should be cause for celebration.
Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing, for what it is worth, is a better performance than that of Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, which was the winner of the Best Actor prize in competition.