“The Imitation Game” Finds a New Way to Slander Alan Turing’s Memory

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game

Most would agree that Alan Turing was unjustly treated and sinned against by society in his own lifetime. Perhaps that fact is what drives many in the LGBT community to feel defensive of his memory.

But it’s not just the gays that are having trouble with the new biopic The Imitation Game. Britain’s Guardian newspaper has called out the film for a number of historical inadequacies, calling it “as much of a garbled mess as a heap of unbroken code.”

The Guardian sets out various liberties the film takes with Turing’s childhood, his relationship with Joan Clarke (played in the film by Keira Knightley), the computing technology Turing invented and, most egregiously, “its appalling suggestion that Alan Turing might have covered up for a Soviet spy.”

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Allen Leech as Soviet spy John Cairncross in The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game puts real-life Soviet spy John Cairncross on Turing’s cryptography team. The movie version of Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) eventually figures out that his colleague is a spy but fails to turn him in when Cairncross (played by Allen Leech) threatens to expose his homosexuality. “If you tell him my secret, I’ll tell him yours.”

If that had really happened and Turing had failed to turn in Cairncross, it would have made him a treasonous coward.

But it didn’t happen. It’s true that Cairncross and Turing were both at Bletchley Park at the same time, but Cairncross was in an entirely different unit and it was highly unlikely that these two would ever even have met.

As Cairncross wrote in his own autobiography: “The rigid separation of the different units made contact with other staff members almost impossible, so I never got to know anyone apart from my direct operational colleagues.”

According to The Guardian, the historical liberties taken here are “deeply offensive – for concealing a spy would have been an extremely serious matter.”

“Were the makers of The Imitation Game intending to accuse Alan Turing, one of Britain’s greatest war heroes, of cowardice and treason? Creative licence is one thing, but slandering a great man’s reputation – while buying into the nasty 1950s prejudice that gay men automatically constituted a security risk – is quite another.”