The gay issue in The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.

After watching The Imitation Game, I left the cinema slightly teary and emotional. As the film comes to a close, facts roll up on the screen about how the film’s hero Allan Turing was driven to suicide at the age of just 41 after being outcast by the country he helped to save.

The film has been criticised for not being entirely accurate, particularly when it came to Turing’s personal life. But the facts speak for themselves: between 1885 and 1967, 41,000 men were chemically castrated, like Turing for being gay.

When convicted for homosexuality, Turing was given the choice of going to jail or being castrated in an attempt to quell his gay desires. He chose the latter because it meant he could continue his work. It’s deeply tragic.

I also think it’s tragic that more people don’t know Alan’s story. Yes, Bletchley Park was classified information for 50 years, but people should know what a hero this man is. He broke the Enigma code, something that the Allies had been working on for years and thought to be near impossible to do. This essentially won World War Two thanks to being able to decrypt German communications and use the intelligence against them.

I only found out about Turing last year, and that was simply because I was working for a technology publication and was tasked with writing about him and Bletchley Park. It was only in 2013 when he received a posthumous pardon from the Queen. Turing has since been included in British schools’ curriculum, and rightly so. It may inspire more children to get interested in mathematics, and more importantly, encourage children to stand up to adversity and be who they are now that this country has recognised that being gay is not a crime.

It saddens me that homosexuality was only legalised less than 50 years ago. I think about my friends who are gay and able to live their lives fully and love who they wish openly today, and imagine who tragic it would be if they were born a mere generation earlier.

My best friend at university is gay and he was the brightest person on our course, and is one of the wittiest and most intelligent people I know. He won the course award for being the student of the year, was one of just two to graduate with a first and is now great at his job. Had things not changed in 1967, he would have to live his life a totally different way or even have been persecuted just for loving men not women. It makes me sad just to consider it.

But even today, the gay community still faces discriminations and struggles. The word ‘gay’ has become synonymous with ‘bad’ and ‘loser’ when it used to mean ‘happy’. Even more upsettingly, the number of reported attacks on gay people has risen to an all-time high. While some say this is good because they are being reported, it is still shocking that so many attacks occur in our supposedly progressive society.

It’s much the same with rape. People feel like they can’t report these attacks because they don’t think they will be taken seriously by the police, or are too scared or ashamed to come forward for something that wasn’t even their fault. As shown in The Imitation Game, 60 years ago, it was the police themselves who were pulling people into the station and questioning them for ‘indecent’ behaviour if they were suspected of being gay. Supposedly, some poetic license was used in the film here as Turing was not under investigation for being a soviet spy, but went to the police himself to report a theft, but after the police saw through the lie he told to cover for a man he was seeing, they began to snoop.

Perhaps the film could have had a greater focus on Turing’s sexuality, as it was our country’s ignorant attitude towards to that was ultimately his downfall. The film quietly hints at Turing being gay throughout, particularly in the flashbacks to his childhood, but it is not explicit, it is somewhat sidestepped aside from the 1950s portion when he is under police investigation. In these scenes you see his love for his machine, and his affection for his colleague Joan Clarke, but it is sad he never truly got to love.

Turing proposes to Joan in The Imitation Game because he cares for her and she needs to get married to appease her parents. In real life, Turing did get engaged to Clarke, but was open about being gay.  He could certainly never be with a man he truly loved, so it seemed like a logical and platonic marriage between the two friends. “We would enjoy each other’s minds, that’s more than most couples can say” says Clarke. True though this is, they both deserved better. Nobody should settle when it comes to love, you can’t imitate it.


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