Breaking the Code
Breaking the Code: Biography of Alan Turing (Derek Jacobi, BBC, 1996)
Breaking The Code tells the story of a mathematical genius, Alan Turing (Derek Jacobi) who, seconded to the top secret Bletchley Park England during World War II, was responsible for designing the first computer, which enabled the allies to crack the German Enigma code and, some would argue, win the war. It was on Churchill’s specific instructions that Turing was given all the resources he required – and his personal behavior tolerated: Turing was a practicing homosexual at a time when it was illegal.
At Bletchley Park Turing encounters his new boss, Dillwyn Knox (Richard Johnson) who immediately recognizes Turing’s genius and perhaps, his sexual predilections. Whilst discussing the practical applications of scientific research Turing speaks what is perhaps the central line of Breaking The Code: “I have always been willing – indeed eager – to accept moral responsibility for what I do.” It was this uncompromising stance, plus his perhaps unworldly genius, which was Turing’s strength when it came to scientific research, but was also his personal undoing.
Breaking The Code operates on two timescales, which are very skillfully inter-cut by Hugh Whitemore (Writer): the Second World War and England in the late 1950’s. During the war we see the code-breaker at work, declining to compromise his nature by refusing to return the love of his female assistant, Pat Green (Amanda Root).
After the war we see Turing still doing research but getting progressively entangled in the law after he has voluntarily gone to the Police to report a break in. When asked whom he suspects, Turing suggests one of his casual male lovers. To the Police Officer’s (Alun Armstrong) surprise, Turing confesses to his homosexuality – which is illegal – and is charged. After his trial he meets Pat Green again, who knew he was a homosexual but would have married him anyway, and who reveals that Dillwyn Knox had ‘compromised’ his own homosexuality and married conventionally. Turing also confesses to his mother (Prunella Scales) who, although shocked, supports him.
Eventually Turing goes on holiday to Corfu and picks up a young Greek boy. Shortly afterwards Turing commits suicide.
Summarized as badly as this Breaking The Code sounds rather bleak; it is not. It is frequently very funny, always compassionate and provides real insight into the dilemmas and problems homosexuality in a genius presents, not just to Turing but to his family, his professional colleagues, and not least The State’s preoccupation with National Security – in the shape of one John Smith (Harold Pinter), the mysterious ‘Man from the Ministry’.
Apart from recreating Derek Jacobi’s remarkable performance, which he gave in both London and Broadway Theatres, the film has great visual interest as it crosscuts between the England of World War II and the post-war England of the 1950’s. Breaking The Code is a 90-minute film, shot on 35mm. It reunites Derek Jacobi and Herbert Wise (Director) whose collaboration on I Claudius was one of their earliest and greatest successes.