Thursday, October 09, 2014

Review of Alan Turing biopic ‘The Imitation Game’

What if only a machine can defeat another machine?”

Last night, Wednesday 8th October 2014 I was one of the lucky ones, packed into a Cineworld (High Wycombe in my case), watching a simultaneous screening of the London premiere and gala opening of ‘The Imitation Game’ biopic of my hero Alan Turing (My PhD is based on the imitation game to explore machine thinking). Thank you to Show Films First, Amex and the BFI 2014 Film Festival for making this opportunity possible.

Drawing away from the film the mantra ‘Don’t be normal, be Turing’ reverberated in my thoughts all the way back to my home in a London suburb.

Watching the film compels you not to try to 'fit in', it will be seen as a pretence and you’ll be dismissed for it, better to be yourself, be as brilliant as it is possible for you to be, you may be disliked intensely, it may polarise people’s opinions about you, (in the cricket world currently one only has to look at how a batting "talent that comes along too rarely" Kevin Pietersen has been treated by some of his fellow team members and the English Cricket Board, ECB). But being despised is better than being ignored. Turing was not ignored, no one could ignore Turing.

Stepping back to yesterday morning, before I saw ‘The Imitation Game’ movie, I had really wanted Leonardo DiCaprio to play Turing, as had been mooted in 2011 with Ron Howard to direct Graham Moore's script based on Oxford mathematician Andrew Hodges' biography. Leo has a similar square-ish face shape to Turing’s – handsome. 

Young Turing_Young Leo

Benedict Cumberbatch’s face is elongated and he doesn’t look anything like Turing, but then neither do Derek Jacobi (BBC Breaking the Code) and Ed Stoppard (Channel 4’s Codebreaker) who have also played Alan Turing

Adult Turing - Derek Jacobi - Ed Stoppard

Benedict is Sherlock Holmes, he seems to epitomise that kind of annoying logical smartass and mechanical sleuth. 

Yesterday Benedict was Turing. 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in 'The Imitation Game'

Let’s turn to what I felt after seeing ‘The Imitation Game’ film.

In 'The Imitation Game' film, the characters, and brilliant acting talent portraying the people around Turing at times in his life, included:

Mark Strong (Welcome to the Punch, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kick Ass) plays the mysterious but Turing-supportive MI6 head Stewart Menzies who passed Turing’s 1941 request for resources to Churchill. That Prime Minister responded and gave the resources in the plea, unlike David Cameron who had no money to support the Alan Turing centenary events in 2012, including the ‘London Inspire Mark’ award winning Turing100 series of practical Turing tests at the place where Turing broke the enigma code, well, not in Hut 8, but in Bletchley Park mansion’s Billiard and Ballroom on 23 June 2012. 

Turing’s 100th birthday. Mark Strong said, on the red carpet of the gala opening of the BFI London Film Festival: “I hope enough people in the UK know who Alan Turing is, because he is a hero”. Last night in Cineworld at least one of the staff members learnt who Alan Turing was, she asked me after the film what I thought and what certificate it should have, I feel it’s okay for children to watch with parents, in fact they should watch because it will inspire them. More than an Oscar or any ‘gong’, if this movie reaches more people beyond the world of us academics who work in his legacy, widens the circle of interest in Turing, then the film will be a major achievement of the entire production and cast.

Charles Dance said of his character in the film, Commander Denniston, that he was “a bit of a prat” . I’ll leave the reader to watch the film and find out why J

Keira Knightly. One can forget that her character, Joan Clarke, is not a made-up female drawing on cinematic licence ticking all the boxes to connect movies with movie-goers watching them, and who will want to watch them over and over again. Joan Clarke was very real, a first-class Cambridge-educated mathematician like Turing, who was, because she was female, designated a linguist rather than a code-breaker. We can easily forget that in the time Joan was part of Turing’s life it was less than two decades since women had been granted the vote on equal terms with men in the UK (in 1928), and how at Bletchley Park during WWII women assisted men as ‘secretaries’, but were capable of a lot more if given the opportunity, which Joan Clarke showed she so obviously was. 

Times are better for women, but still not great – in the second decade of of the 21st century the UK still has far fewer females populating the higher echelons of academia as University Vice Chancellors. Keira Knightly brings Joan Clarke out of the shadows into the light as a heroine herself and a role model for girls today. Thank you to Keira, for portraying Joan Clarke, not as a glamorous kitten in ‘The Imitation Game’ but with gracious simplicity masking an inner quality beyond beauty as Turing’s mind-for-mind friend.

Keira Knightley as codebreaker Joan Clarke

Benedict Cumberbatch. BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, Benedict was not that character as Alan Turing. Depicting the ‘confidant in his work’ mathematician, belief in ‘Turing as the codebreaker; and what the logician was doing, what was needed to be done at that crucial time and how to realise it in a not-normal way, pitting a machine against another machine by firstly focusing on getting a big machine built – was genius thinking. The film does not shirk from the fact that Turing was a homosexual, it’s ever present, but what the film does is not sensationalise that feature of Turing’s character. Alan Turing was much, much more than a homosexual man – he was a complex human being. This is what Benedict captures in his interpreting Turing, played brilliantly as a pioneer who challenged and risked to improve the world. Turing was not perfect, who is? Who wants to be? Turing was not normal; goodness the world needs more not-normals. The Imitation Game showed us that elegantly.

Finally about the film, there are scenes in the movie that I don’t recognise, or remember reading about in Andrew Hodges biographyAlan Turing: the enigma’, or his mother Sara Turing’s book, that the film presents as happening to Turing. It is unimportant as far as the concept of the movie goes – I recall a Greek colleague piqued that Brad Pitt’s Troy related Achilles killed inside the city, rather than what we’re  tuned to by the myth. Creativity in ‘The Imitation Game’ tells a great story of a dazzling intellectual, of the heroic Alan Turing who needs to be as well-known as Leonardo Da Vinci and Einstein. Thanks to Morten Tyldum's movie he will be.

YouTube 'Introduction to The Imitation Game BFI 2014 LFF gala screening':

YouTube 'The Imitation Game premiere, red carpet interviews at the 2014 London Film Festival':

Interviews of the cast of 'The Imitation Game', including Mark Stong here:


Readers might want to check the the 60th anniversary 'Turing on Emotions' 2014 special volume (5) with two issues of papers ranging from articles about Turing the man to Turing-related work in the international journal of synthetic emotions (IJSE), they include:

Film Theory and Chatbots. 5(1), pages 17-22

Feelings of a Cyborg. 5 (2), pages 1-6

See here for full contents list of IJSE Volume 5 issues 1-2:

 © Huma Shah 9 October 2014  - please note all images in this blog post have been taken from across the web

[NB: updated with YouTube clip and links]


Update 23 November 2014

I've now seen The Imitation Game film five times (8 October and 8 November pre-UK release, then 16, 18 and 22 November), once with my boss and his wife.  W/E 22-23 November, the Turing story on film is sitting at number two in the IMDB Box Office after Interstellar - Chris Nolan's 2001: Kubrick inspired space adventure.

The more I see the Imitation Game the more I admire Turing-type characters who have such self-belief and confidence in their talent that they challenge authority with the nature of a child. The scene in the film where Cumberbatch's Turing roars "You people will never understand the importance of what I am creating here" reminds of every time 'authority' continues with its old ways regardless of how unsuccessful they may be, too weak to take the risk, too self-important to envelope imagination.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Imitation Game film will open BFI London Film Festival 2014 tomorrow: 8 October

The Imitation GameAlan Turing biopic based on Andrew Hodges book 'Alan Turing: the Enigma' will open BFI's 2014 London Film Festival tomorrow, 8 October 2014. Simultaneous screenings of the premiere will be shown around the UK, here's my ticket :)

Alan Turing has been played previously by Derek Jacobi in 'Breaking the Code' (1996), and by Ed Stoppard in 'Codebreaker' (2011).  

This time around it is Benedict Cumberbatch who plays the tragic genius in the film that marks the 60th anniversary year of the untimely death of the tragic genius in 1954.

From my guest editorial, in a special 'Turing on Emotions' volume of major papers in The International Journal of Synthetic Emotions (IJSE):

"Alan Turing is one of those towering pioneers under whose striding shadow researchers in  many fields amble. He accomplished and  contributed more in his 41 years than many  of us could hope to in twice that lifetime." 

From here:

My paper in Volume 5, issue 1 of IJSE:

"This paper makes no apology for its reading like a collection of book reports. It draws mainly on the reminiscences of Sara and John Turing, Alan Turing's mother and elder brother respectively, as well as from Andrew Hodges' extensive research on the man, his work and his impact gathered for the definitive Alan Turing biography. Alan Turing was a complex, talented man bereft of one stable and loyal companion throughout his life. He was the boy who explained Einstein's Theory of Relativity aged 15½ for his mother and the tormented outcast who gave us the modern world (Sunday Times, 2011)."

Read more here :

Update 8 October:

Trailer for 'The Imitation Game' movie:

Coventry University continues Turing's pioneering work in machine intelligence, press notice here:

Deputy Vice Chancellor-Research, Professor Kevin Warwick said: "The Turing Test is one of the most important yet controversial milestones in the field of artificial intelligence, and Coventry University is critically involved with its practical assessment. This will have a dramatic impact on future communication not only where computers are involved but in all aspects of cyber-crime where identity and deception are key elements".

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why BBC 2's Newsnight dropped female Muslim for their 'who speaks for Muslims' studio discussion............

 ...................... so they wouldn't upset the Daily Mail!!!!!

A week ago two acknowledged space scientists, Dr Hiranya Peiris and Sky at Night presenter Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock appearing on Newsnight to discuss "detected gravitational waves, an echo of the Big Bang, the universe's cataclysmic birth almost 14 billion years agobrought forth this description by a Daily Mail columnist:
"....two women were invited to comment on the report about (white, male) American scientists who've detected the origins of the universe – giggling Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Sri Lanka-born astronomer Hiranya Peiris"

Read a disgusted Professor David Price, vice-provost for research at University College London (UCL) feelings on the matter in the Guardian:
"I am writing to express my deep disappointment in the insinuation in your newspaper that Dr Hiranya Peiris was selected to discuss the Big Bang breakthrough on Newsnight for anything other than her expertise.
In Ephraim Hardcastle's column on 19 March, he asserts that Dr Peiris and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock were selected based on gender and birthplace because 'Newsnight's Guardian-trained editor, Ian Katz, is keen on diversity.'
The implication that anything outside of her academic record qualifies Dr Peiris to discuss the results of the BICEP2 study is profoundly insulting. She is a world-leading expert on the study of the cosmic microwave background, with degrees from Cambridge and Princeton, so is one of the best-placed people in the world to discuss the finding.
Dr Aderin-Pocock is a highly-qualified scientist and engineer with an exceptional talent for communicating complex scientific concepts in an accessible way.
Full letter here. 

Perhaps fearing the wrath of the Daily Mail, and their contempt for contribution by intelligent females in highly technical matters, persuaded BBC 2's Newsnight team to host an-all male debate -  " last min editorial decision to replace me for 'wider views' (M. Francois-Cerrah/Twitter Feed) on who speaks for British Muslims?

Newsnight 24 March 2014: Who speaks for UK muslims?

On BBC2's Newsnight last night (Monday 24 March 2014),  Myriam Francois-Cerrah was dropped and replaced with  Mohammed Ansar resulting in umpteen minutes of squabbing among UK Huffington Post's political director Mehdi Hasan, Ansar both of whom clearly objected to former radical and 'counter-extremist think tank' Quilliam Foundation's Majid Nawaz, looked on by an unusually hapless Jeremy Paxman. Missing was a rational discussion about there not being a need for anyone to speak for the disparate coterie of Muslims anywhere.

Pity Newsnight backed down on Myriam's views though.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

'Alan Turing: His Life and Impact' book wins top prize in 2013 Prose Awards

2013 Winners

R.R. Hawkins Award
Elsevier Science
Alan Turing: His Work and Impact in the West, 350-550 AD

Edited by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leeuwen

From here:

Chapters detailed here:

Turing book