Even though Alan Turing laid the foundation for the computer age and helped turn the tide of World War II, he wasn't treated like a hero. Instead, he faced terrible persecution because he was gay. Turing is one of the 20th century's most important people, but few people have heard his name, know his story or understand his legacy. That's what sparked my interest in producing a film about Alan Turing. Codebreaker, a feature-length drama-documentary about Turing's life, premieres this month in the United States.
I got started with this project more than three years ago. For many years I'd planned to pursue filmmaking, and I had accumulated more than a hundred ideas. I first came across the story of Alan Turing in January 2004, during a trip to the Smithsonian's American History Museum. Five years later, as I started doing more research about him, it became clear to me that this was the film I wanted to make. It's a remarkable story. It's a tragic story. It's an inspiring story.
Throughout his short life, Alan Turing was a nonconformist and an outsider. His mind and personality placed him at odds with colleagues, peers and a society that emphasized conformity and control. In his personal life, too, he charted his own path, accepting his homosexuality at a time when such honesty was rare and potentially harmful.
Turing's brilliant mind eventually turned him into a most unlikely hero during World War II. He helped turn the tide of war by leading the high-stakes and ultimately successful British efforts to break Germany's naval Enigma code. Historians credit this codebreaking success with shortening the war by two years and saving millions of lives.
Alan Turing had already made quite an impact on the world even before the war. In the 1930s he developed the intellectual foundation for the modern computer. Professor Martin Davis, a noted computer science pioneer and author, says, "People credit Turing with the invention of the computer because he invented the concept on which everything else was built." Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says, "Alan Turing was sort of at the top of everything that ever developed, all the future research that was done by people building real equipment that can ... compute!"
Turing never saw the modern world he helped create. While investigating a burglary at his home in early 1952, police learned that he had engaged in a homosexual relationship. Police quickly arrested Turing for breaking the same 1885 statute that had brought down Oscar Wilde. Authorities eventually forced Turing to undergo so-called "organo therapy." It was chemical castration. Medical experts say that Turing would have lost his libido and his ability to get an erection. He grew breasts. The chemical castration also affected his intellectual ability. Dr. Allan Pacey, a hormone therapy expert, told us, "The thought of prescribing this drug to chemically castrate someone fills me with horror."
Turing eventually committed suicide. In June 1954 he poisoned himself with cyanide. A partially eaten apple was found by his bedside. He was only 41 years old. The 20th century had lost one its most important people.
It has been a long and sometimes bumpy road, turning my simple idea into a compelling film. Along the way I teamed up with an experienced London production partner, and we put together an excellent team of filmmakers. Eventually, Channel 4 in the United Kingdom got behind the project. We are now pleased to present Codebreaker to U.S. theatrical audiences.
I promise you'll leave the movie theater with a lot to think about. You'll think about the senseless tragedy. You'll probably be angry, too, and you should be. Society's intolerance cut short the life of this genius. What if he had lived longer? What else might he have accomplished? It's a sad story, but people should also be inspired by Alan Turing's life. He was one of a kind. He lived his life with integrity, on his own terms. It has been 100 years since his birth and nearly 60 years since his death. Turing's legacy will remain with us. We owe Alan Turing our appreciation and gratitude, even more so because he got so little of it when he was alive.
Watch a trailer for the film: