A morals charge destroys the life of British World War II hero Alan Turing. Based on a true story. [ Breaking the Code credits: Dir: Herbert Wise/ Derek Jacobi, Richard Johnson, Alun Armstrong/ 81 min/ Biography, Drama/ Sexual Liberty, Creator as Hero]
During World War II, Nazi military units communicated via a nearly unbreakable code which the Allies called Enigma. The code was particularly difficult because the transmitting and receiving devices employed a coding and decoding logic that effectively altered the order of the code with every keystroke. In short, it was a code that was impossible to break by conventional methods.
Enter Alan Turing, a British math genius and early pioneer in the development of the digital computer. His combination of mathematical and mechanical skills enabled him to make vital contributions to breaking the Enigma code, an accomplishment that saved the lives of thousands and helped destroy the Nazi submarine wolf packs. For his work, Turing received one of Britain’s highest honors, the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire).
Enigma was not the only “code” Turing was to break, however. Following the war, he was arrested on a morals charge after admitting to a policeman, in his peculiarly naive way, that he was a homosexual and had had sex with another man. Apparently he didn’t realize it was illegal. The result was public humiliation followed by forced injections of estrogen, an experimental treatment of the time for “curing” homosexuality that disfigured him. He eventually committed suicide.
That any adult should be arrested and drugged for private, consensual, sexual relations with another adult is outrageous enough. But that it should happen to a hero of this magnitude, who had done his best to save the very government that would then turn on him, is a vicious irony.
Breaking the Code is generally well made, in typical Masterpiece Theater style. Derek Jacobi in the leading role, as Turing, is particularly impressive. It would have been nice to have seen more of Turing’s code-breaking to dramatize his heroism, but the film makes its point. Turing’s life and achievements were also covered in the 2014 film The Imitation Game.
“Breaking the Code is more detailed about Turing’s scientific work. Being talky means the characters actually talk out theories of cryptanalysis in the war scenes to explain how Turing and his coworkers will break the Enigma code. Admittedly, some of it went over my head, but it sure gave the impression of, whoa, this guy is a freakin’ genius.”