“Among awkward techie teenagers without a lot of friends, Alan Turing is a patron saint,” said novelist Graham Moore. A “huge computer nerd” growing up, Moore said that Turing — the British mathematician whose code-cracking brilliance helped to end World War II — was always an inspiration to him. “After I got older and became a writer, I started thinking: How come no one has made a film about Alan Turing?”
Moore, a Chicago native whose novel “The Sherlockian” was published in 2010, came to Seattle last month to discuss that very film: “The Imitation Game,” for which Moore was both screenwriter and executive producer. (It opens in Seattle on Dec. 25.) It is, at last, the story of Turing: an astonishing mind, a pioneer in early computing, and a homosexual at a time when to be discovered meant criminal prosecution. And it came about because of a lucky encounter.
Moving to Los Angeles several years ago, Moore tried to interest his agents in the idea of a screenplay about Turing, but got no encouragement. But one day, he went to a party given by Nora Grossman, a friend-of-a-friend, who was just getting started in film production, and the two chatted in the kitchen. “She said, ‘I just optioned my first book.’ I said, ‘cheers, that’s great … what’s the book?,’” remembered Moore. “She said, ‘It’s a biography of this mathematician, you’ve never heard of him.’ ”
That mathematician was Turing, the book was Andrew Hodges’ biography “Alan Turing: The Enigma” … and Moore “instantly launched into this massively insufferable 15 minute monologue … please, please, let me do this!”
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After many phone calls between Moore and Grossman (“berating her,” said Moore, smiling), he got the go-ahead — and, two years later, cameras rolled on the grounds of Bletchley Park, the former country house that served as headquarters for British code- breaking efforts during the war. Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) signed on to direct, and an all-star British cast was assembled, headed by Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing.
Allen Leech, in Seattle along with Moore, is known to millions as the Irish chauffeur-turned-estate-manager Tom Branson on “Downton Abbey,” but in “The Imitation Game” he plays a Scotsman: code breaker John Cairncross, whose story has its own drama. The screenplay came to Leech while shooting “Downton”; Leech remembered starting it in bed, thinking he’d finish reading it the next day. “I couldn’t sleep. I had to finish the whole thing. As I got to the last page … I was crying. I genuinely was so moved by his storytelling, but also by this story.”
“I read Graham’s script and I felt a bit embarrassed, by the fact that I should know more about this man — why don’t I? The more research you do, you find out how brilliant a mind he was and how tragic his story was. What could Alan Turing have achieved if he wasn’t prosecuted for his sexuality? He could have had a beautiful life.”
Locations for the film also included Sherborne School in Dorset, where Turing attended as a teenager and met Christopher, the young man for whom he would eventually name his “Enigma machine” (an early form of a computer). There was, noted Moore, a plaque at the school in honor of Christopher (who died young), which the cast and crew found very poignant.
“It reminded us all of the importance of this story, the importance of telling the story on the screen,” said Moore. “It’s real people, a real story, a real injustice.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com