This tells, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important stories of the twentieth century – that of British mathematician Alan Turing, who during World War II was focused primarily on breaking the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, and whose work would not only play a truly seismic part in the war effort but would propagate and be taken on by himself into numerous scientific disciplines, helping create the foundation of the modern computer, for example. As if that weren’t enough what happened to him in his personal life is already truly dramatic, irrespective of his decidedly epic achievements. Why is this story not better known?
Turing absolutely has claim to be one of the top ten most influential and important personages of the last century, but the state kept much of his story classified and top secret for many decades (as well as a number of his scientific papers), and then when the movie industry eventually got hold of it they messed it up by creating misfires ‘Enigma’ (01), with Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott which neglected to even mention Turing (although, interestingly it was co-financed by Mick Jagger who actually owns one of the machines), and even more controversially ‘U-571’ (2000), with Matthew McConaughey and Harvey Keitel which didn’t involve itself with the code breaking but instead focused on Americans capturing an Enigma machine despite the fact it was the British that had done so (writer David Ayer has since apologised for this), thankfully someone has given the source material the treatment it really deserved.
Helmed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (‘Headhunters’ 11), Graham Moore adapts the 1983 novel ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges (himself a mathematician) and Benedict Cumberbatch gives a potentially Oscar winning, and immensely enjoyable, performance as Turing, portraying him as an irascible genius (as Matthew Goode’s character says in the film) but one that’s easy to like and sympathise with, and who provides the audience with cause to laugh on more than one occasion. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, who solves a marketing crossword puzzle and gains access to the code breaking team and would come to play a central role in everyone’s lives, but Turing’s most of all. Additional support comes from Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Mark Strong and Charles Dance and absolutely everyone is good here (including Alex Lawther as Turing when he is younger) but the focus is very much on telling Turing’s story.
Actually filmed on location at Bletchley Park, I was already certain of giving this a very high mark as it’s a really intriguing, satisfying and genuinely very moving historical drama – but I was wavering on the issue of historical accuracy. However, the more I read up on the subject, the more convinced I became that the film does remarkably well – I suspect Turing himself would laugh at much of it, you can probably take all the interactions between the characters and consider them legitimate inventions, but I also believe he would be very pleased, and consider it truthful in all the ways that ultimately matter. Complaints have been made from the Polish media that the necessary work of their own soldiers and code breakers isn’t highlighted, but I don’t think that’s fair really – it’s very clearly alluded to in the film and certainly The Red Dragon came away with the distinct impression they had played a vital role, one is simply encouraged to do a little research afterward to learn more.
Accounts from his co-workers all seem to vouch for his central and pivotal role in events and if you have Winston Churchill himself claiming that Turing made the single biggest contribution to winning the war, well, it’s pretty difficult to argue with that really. Many of the events in the film which one may reasonably assume to be fictitious are actually true – and they have also omitted a lot of Turing’s other achievements: he’s shown running around the Park to keep fit (and no doubt de-stress), for example, but they don’t mention he actually used to sometimes run all the way to London from Bletchley, a distance of more than sixty kilometres (a marathon is a mere forty two). My personal favourite anecdote is that he used to chain his coffee mug to the radiator so that no one else could use it. I approve of this. Where I am right now I keep careful track of the mug I use AS IT’S THE BIGGEST – Dragons require copious amounts of tea otherwise they go on killing rampages. This may save your life one day.
Similarly (there are slight spoilers in this paragraph so you might want to skip it), with regard to the breaking of the code what we see onscreen is kind of what was used – it’s spread out over time in the film and it makes sense for the screenplay but in reality it would probably have taken them all of two seconds to realise its importance, though it is ironic that Hitler’s own ego was to have such an affect on matters. I don’t think it’s mentioned in the film, but I am reliably told that the Enigma machine could map a letter to any other except itself, and had it been able to do that it would have been perhaps outwith the team’s powers to break (or at least added significantly to the time frame involved). Also not delved into is that the spy mentioned in the film was actually able to provide the Soviets with vital information used in the battle of Kursk, which changed the entire tide of the war on the Eastern Front in favour of Russia. It really is no hyperbole to say that many of us are alive today thanks to the determined efforts of Alan Turing.
I’d love to see the film, Cumberbatch, Tyldum and Moore get Oscar nominations for this but, as you will no doubt have guessed, no one more so than Keira for best supporting actress – she has certainly had a great year and garnered a lot of good faith in the States with the likes of ‘Jack Ryan : Shadow Recruit‘, ‘Begin Again‘ and ‘Laggies‘, not to mention a lot of positive attention with her fairly low-key and intimate marriage in 2013, the revelation she only gives herself a respectable sum of circa thirty grand to live off each year, and then posing topless to take a stance against the media’s abuse of the female image. Together with the right film, i.e. this one, and a strong character with a great performance which she delivers here, it could very well propel her back into Oscar’s sights – plus she was robbed of the one she deserved for ‘Pride and Prejudice’ back in 2005, so say I ..
Incidentally, this is also the second film with her and Steven Waddington (best known for playing the villainous English major in ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ 92), the other being ‘The Hole’ (01), and in each case he plays a police sergeant and they never actually meet onscreen. Probably, no one else on the planet has noticed this (except for Waddington who must be pissed, and he failed to woo Madeleine Stowe in The Last of the Mohicans as well). Keira is also a fan of crosswords in real life, so is The Red Dragon which can only mean one thing – babies. That’s right, little baby dragons with Keira’s face on them, Keirons if you will, running around the place riddling humans to their everlasting peril. Actually, due to the success of the film GCHQ released an app, ‘Cryptoy’, which tests your code breaking powers and if you are good enough they may contact you. However, do you really want to install an app created by the intelligence services? It’s not like this film is a ringing endorsement of working for them – and I can only imagine what the permissions on it are like.
Alternatives for logic challenges are the ‘Myst’ series of games for the PC – you can get most of them for twenty quid from here (there’s even a sale on at the moment), or there’s a free online version, although I’m not completely sold on this as yet … Also, you might want to have a look at this little oddity which someone created and is quite fun, and, for your viewing and intellectual pleasure, The Red Dragon has a created a crossword for you to try. If you solve it within five minutes you get … well, nothing, but that’s not the point. (pen and paper required and the answers are at the bottom so don’t scroll down too fast …)
1. “A friend in need …” (2,1,6,6) 8. Uncovered heat shed, covered (8)
9. Strictly oblique minister? (6) 10. Artisan looking south acts aimlessly (7) 11. Sounds like the highest voices, but is really Fred’s daughter (7)
13. Red ire again upset French ass (8) 15. Felt strongly passionate as dead remains placed in bed (6) 16. Even garb ajee scat in pieces (6) 18. Ralph hitting singular stake loses head spelling all (8) 21. The state of ecstasy – itself beset by a poorly maiden (7) 22. Initially, early studies showed even nocturnal creatures exude scent (7) 25. Placid icicle sour inside 26. Yielding to revelry Dona bans reckless whims, and leaves (8) 27. “You can’t teach an …” (3,3,3,6)
1. Inch forward, taste the source of instinctive impulses is bland (7) 2. One encouraging taking risks? (7) 3. Connect again as royal engineers bind together (5)
4. Dune unearthed without a stitch (4) 5. Strike the target, with a stroke, and you can use it to purify the claws (9) 6. Troop formation command level (7) 7. Modelled after removal indicator to have gotten rid of (7) 12. Bared, made to prohibit entrance (5) 14. Secret cooing tin rattled (9) 16. The music from the orchestra suffers from restlessness (7) 17. Awful, headless, fell jedi going weak at the knees (7)
19. Mountainous peak protects animal life, producing acid’s name (7)
20. Oppressed by nature Nazis display their long curls of hair (7) 23. The lunatics are better, at first, shrieking amidst new enemies return (5) 24. Special rear (4)
Across – 1) is a friend indeed 8) sheathed 9) bishop 10) potters 11) Pebbles 13) derrière 15) burned 16) abject 18) alphabet 21) illegal 22) essence 25) acidic 26) abandons 27) old dog new tricks
Down – 1) insipid 2) abetter/abettor 3) retie 4) nude 5) nailbrush 6) echelon 7) deposed 12) debar 14) incognito 16) agitato 17) jellied 19) benzoic 20) tresses 23) saner 24) rare