Movies rarely make me cry, but I cried when I watched The Imitation Game. Released today, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly, telling the heroic and tragic story of the British wartime code breaker, mathematical genius and computer pioneer, Alan Turing.
As well as decrypting Nazi military codes, shortening the war by two years and saving millions of lives, the entire modern digital age of computers, mobile phones, email, internet and space exploration is based on the principles he elaborated. Although Turing arguably possessed one of the greatest minds in history – on a par with Newton and Einstein – he was nevertheless prosecuted and hounded to his death in 1954 for being gay.
Upon conviction, Turing was given a stark choice: two years’ jail, or chemical castration via a hormone therapy that was uncannily similar to the Nazi “cures” for homosexuality that were used on gay men in Buchenwald concentration camp.
Unable to cope with the ghastly side effects of castration treatment, he committed suicide at the age of 41 – depriving humanity of future knowledge and inventions he might have pioneered had he lived.
I wept as I watched this film. I wept not only for Turing’s terrible personal suffering, but also for the estimated 50,000-100,000 other gay and bisexual men who were convicted in Britain under the same or similar anti-gay laws. Unlike Turing, most of them were given no choice. They were jailed and often brutally abused on the inside.