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23 January 2015

In 2013, ACE Tour Director and expert on WWII military intelligence, Dr Mark Baldwin, was approached by the makers ofThe Imitation Game for the loan of a rare 4-rotor Enigma machine. Here he gives his account of his day in the studio and reviews the finished film - now nominated for eight Academy Awards.

The Imitation Game: Reviewed by Mark Baldwin

In 2013, ACE Tour Director and expert on WWII military intelligence, Dr Mark Baldwin, was approached by the makers ofThe Imitation Game for the loan of a rare 4-rotor Enigma machine. Here he gives his account of his day in the studio and reviews the finished film - now nominated for eight Academy Awards.

I was sitting down to Sunday lunch on 3 November 2013, when my phone rang. To my great surprise, the lady who called was working on a new film about Alan Turing - The Imitation Game. She asked whether I could supply a 4-rotor Enigma machine, and whether it would be available for filming next week. 3-rotor Enigma machines aren't common, but 4-rotor machines (as used by U-Boats from 1942) are particularly rare. We had numerous phone and email exchanges to finalise details, but eventually, I agreed to provide the Enigma machine, and some other kit including WW2 Kriegsmarine headphones, radio receiver, transmitter, microphone - and even a U-Boat jug!

 

 

On 10 November, I had an early start to be at the studio in Hayes by 9 am. I was soon admitted to the cavernous windowless studio, where several small scenes were being set up simultaneously, including the wireless operator's desk in a U-Boat, where I was asked to install my own wireless equipment and Enigma. Progress was slow, with the Director (Morten Tyldum) moving from scene to scene, doing multiple re-takes and then reviewing these before proceeding to the next set-up. I was still in the studio at 11 am when, because it was Remembrance Sunday, everything stopped for 2 minutes. That I had not expected.

Having contributed, in this very small way, to the filming, I was naturally impatient to see the result, and to see whether the U-Boat scene had survived the editing. General UK release was scheduled for 14 November 2014, but my wife and I were invited to a black-tie preview evening at Bletchley Park on 4 November. We were relieved to see that the U-Boat scene had survived, although providing only the briefest of glimpses of my machine.

So what of the film itself? Tyldum presents a gripping story, ranging through Turing's life from school days at Sherborne to suicide in Manchester in 1954. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a fine performance as Turing, and Keira Knightley plays fellow codebreaker Joan Clarke, to whom Turing was briefly engaged. This does not claim to be a documentary, so numerous departures from the truth can be detected. Most are not significant, although the damning of Commander Denniston has upset many, as there is no evidence at all that he was an overbearing tyrant, seizing every opportunity to rid himself of an unwanted Turing. Nor can we accept that Turing would have agreed to ignore Cairncross's treachery in return for Cairncross's remaining silent about Turing's homosexuality.

Despite these significant flaws, the film looks set for great success, and will, I'm sure, provide welcome publicity for the whole Enigma story.

Join Mark on his Secret War tour later this year and delve deeper into the history of British Intelligence during WWII. Visits include Bletchley Park and the Military Intelligence Museum at Chicksands, and Mark will also demonstrate his own Enigma machine. Full information and booking details here.

 
 
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