Alan Turing biopic attracts controversy

The Imitation Game. Image: Studio Canal.
The Imitation Game. Image: Studio Canal.
The Imitation Game. Image: Studio Canal.

Hollywood hasn’t quite got the best reputation when it comes to historical accuracy. From Pearl Harbor, to Braveheart, to Disney’s Pocahontas, we all know American producers favour sensationalised plots over the reality of historical events, or figures.

With this in mind, principle filming has just begun on a movie detailing the life of famous World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing, entitled The Imitation Game. Most disturbingly, the filmmakers responsible for this project have decided to downplay one of Turing’s most famous qualities: his homosexuality.

Instead, the film exaggerates his relationship with a woman, Joan Clarke (played by Keira Knightley), who worked with Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), in Bletchley Park during the war. In reality, Turing was engaged to wed Clark, but broke it off after revealing his true sexual identity to her. To me, it feels rather absurd to draw a ‘Hollywood love story’ out of something short-lived and ultimately fake.

These so-called ‘creative liberties’ are perhaps a means of making the film more palatable to Western audiences, who may find it difficult that a figure important in the defeat of Nazi Germany was not heterosexual. Turing prevented the deaths of thousands of lives, and arguably shortened the war by breaking the German enigma code. He is also considered an innovative figure in the development of modern computing and artificial intelligence. Turing was arrested on grounds of ‘gross indecency’, however, and suffered forced chemical castration before his suicide in 1954.

With a story as significant as Turing’s, in both science and the pathway to LGBT equality, there is an obligation on the behalf of filmmakers to create an accurate representation of his life and person. Amidst the wave of legislative and societal homophobia in Russia, a film is in the works detailing the life of Tchaikovsky. Funded by the Russian government, the film rejects the popular composer’s sexuality (an undisputed historical fact) on the grounds it will conflict with the country’s recent anti-gay propaganda law. It feels rather chilling that a Hollywood film reflects the same level of historical ignorance as something funded by the Russian government.

The Imitation Game seems to fly in the face of recent moves towards LGBT equality, with equal marriage being passed in several countries and US states just this year. Hollywood though, appears to be counteracting this trend, with such films as Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra failing to gain any studio backing as it was considered ‘too gay’. It seems that Hollywood still believes that a film must contain a heterosexual protagonist and appeal to gender conformity in order to meet audience approval, when in reality the world is more than ready for this. The Imitation Game is only in its early stages of production, but if the gay cover-up is as real as is alleged, it is shameful on behalf of its makers. It is a betrayal of the scientist’s legacy to his family, but also to historians and LGBT individuals who view him as a hero.


  1. You seem to take a few ‘creative liberties’ with the truth yourself in this article. You’re reporting as factual things the producers have denied on more than one occasion. A bit hypocritical, isn’t it?

  2. Given, the producers of this film have denied these accusations, but we should not necessarily believe this as fact either .The fact that Turing’s main biographer, among others, still voice their concerns about the film demonstrates that this is still an issue. This is a story which gained attention during the summer, but mainly in LGBT press. I merely wanted to bring the story to a wider audience through the Saint.

  3. Imitation history ascribing to Turing what he did not do first – that is, crack the Enigma code. He did not enter virgin territory. The Polish Cipher Bureau did, after everyone else gave up, and the Poles solved the mathematical riddle of Enigma in 1932. Turing merely continued their work with Polish-supplied Enigma machines, Zygalski code sheets, math formulae, & the Polish Bombe. This film is, therefore, another British pageant.


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