Breaking the Code

Herbert Wise’s somber, impeccably acted adaptation of Hugh Whitemore’s play dramatizes the tragedy of English mathematician Alan Turing, one of a small group of brain trusters who helped win World War II by cracking the Nazis’ “Enigma” military code. Unfortunately Turing’s homosexuality marked him as a security risk in the 1950s; ordered to undergo hormone treatment (which made him grow breasts) and placed under government scrutiny, he committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple. Whitemore’s sensitive, understated script deftly skips back and forth in time, charting the emotional and social factors that fueled the rise and ruin of this eccentric genius (note how the apple motif links a boyhood infatuation of Turing’s to his disastrous affair with a small-time crook 20 years later). A finely detailed performance by Derek Jacobi makes Turing a fascinating and complex figure–deeply passionate about his often abstruse work, admirably principled in his candor, charming in his awkward gentleness, yet troubling in his lapses of common sense. Breaking the Code was a riveting Broadway vehicle for Jacobi a decade ago; the intimacy of film makes his performance all the more compelling, from his delicately nuanced vocal inflections and gestures to the play of thoughts and feelings reflected in his eyes. With a superb supporting cast that includes Prunella Scales as Turing’s confused but loyal mother and playwright Harold Pinter as a smarmily evasive intelligence officer, Breaking the Code honors Turing as a hero on his own modest, idiosyncratic, all too human terms. Village, Thursday, November 19, 9:15.

–Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.