I sadly never had the opportunity to meet my uncle, Alan Turing. We share some very basic similarities — we both attended Sherborne and King’s College, Cambridge, both have an affinity for mathematics, both have ties to Bletchley Park — but that’s about it. I couldn’t possibly claim to have achieved anything in the realm of what he did, but nevertheless I’ve always considered my relation to him a tremendous source of pride.
If we were to ignore his presence in our family background, we’d be turning our backs on a link to one of history’s truly great men. This was a man who was confident, and some might say eccentric, enough to put his name to a letter to Winston Churchill requesting his help in getting additional resources to his codebreaking team (Churchill answered swiftly and forcefully in Alan’s favor). It’s also been said that Churchill believed Alan Turing and the codebreakers of Bletchley should be credited with the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.
Do a quick Google search into the public tributes that he’s received and you’ll find a wealth of reasons to think that my uncle has been remembered to the utmost extent; there are foundations, streets, awards, museum exhibitions, theatre productions, TV movies and countless books out there bearing his name.
The Imitation Game brings Alan to life in a rather different way — Benedict Cumberbatch and the team behind it managed not just to remind us about all his innovations and their magnitude; they also succeeded in making Alan a living, breathing, feeling human being who was complicated, strange, brilliant, caring and staunch in his belief that he would live life as he chose to. He was not afraid to challenge conventions, nor did he shy away from his identity as a homosexual.
The film paints a new picture of my uncle and, at times, it is a bit heart-wrenching. This is not, of course, to diminish the importance of talking about his genius or the fact that he spared countless lives with his work during the Second World War — and the film is sure to thank him for all of that.
There was time, not all that many years ago, when I’m fairly certain that no one who hadn’t been specifically schooled in computer science had ever heard of Alan. That began to change back in 2009, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued him a formal apology on behalf of the UK government for the treatment he endured before his death. It happened again four years later, when the UK Government secured a royal pardon for the same reasons.
These were opportunities not just to acknowledge the absurdity of Alan’s treatment for being a gay man but also the means of reviving the discussion around his vast accomplishments. The Imitation Game is a moving tribute and brings out a side of Alan Turing which doesn’t readily come across in a history book or an encyclopedia page.