Breaking the Code

Breaking the Code (Mobil Masterpiece Theatre/WGBH, 1997) Based loosely on Andrew Hodges’ Turing: The Enigma, this film underscores the role of eccentric personalities in the codebreaking profession and the societal barriers that they encountered. Alan Turing was a mathematical wizard who had extraordinarily advanced insights into the mechanical potential of computers to solve monstrous mathematical problems.

    Recruited by Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking center, Turing contributed to extraordinary breakthroughs in cracking ENIGMA, Germany’s ‘unbreakable code machine.’ Though his specific work is only referred to tangentially, in 1946 Turing was awarded an OBE for his valuable war time service.  After the war he continued to work on secret projects for the British government.

    At Bletchley Park and subsequently, his homosexuality sparked official notice. The film, while having occasional flashes into his mathematical brilliance, focuses principally on his sexuality and how officialdom reacted to it.

    Turing comes across as both brilliant and organizationally and politically naïve. That he could volunteer to describe a homosexual act (a criminal offense of existing British law) to a police inspector) was the act of a person with scant guile.

    The film portrays Turing as an individual who had served his country uncommonly well and who sought to continue such service. After the defection of Burgess and McLean, two British diplomats at the British Embassy in Washington, American intelligence, during the McCarthy period, were increasingly sensitive about possible British security risks.

    It is unclear what precisely happened to Turing after his public trial for homosexuality. He committed suicide in 1954. In 1993 the city of Manchester honored him by naming a roundabout Alan Turing Way.

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