When writer Graham Moore learned five years ago that two producers wanted to make a biopic on British World War II code-breaker Alan Turing, he nearly flipped.
Moore, a self-described “Turing obsessive,” had just moved to Los Angeles when he attended a party thrown by Nora Grossman, a television executive turned movie producer.
“I had met her once, briefly, but I don’t know how I ended up on the (party) email list – I think she thought I was a different Graham,” Moore, 33, said by phone during a San Francisco publicity stop for “Game.”
Moore made small talk in the kitchen with Grossman, who told him that she and fellow newbie film producer Ido Ostrowsky had obtained rights to a biography about a British mathematician Moore probably never had heard of: Alan Turing. Moore reacted in a way one might expect of a guy who spent youthful summers at computer-science and space camps.
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“I instantly launch into this totally insufferable, 45-minute monologue” about Turing, he said. “Like, ‘I know everything about him, please let me do (the script), I will do it for free.’ She is like, inching away from me, like ‘Who is this psycho, and how did he get in my kitchen?’”
Grossman was not that weirded out, because she collaborated with Chicago native Moore – who had written the 2010 Sherlock Holmes-related novel “The Sherlockian” but never a screenplay – on what would become “The Imitation Game.” The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode (“The Good Wife”) and Allen Leech (“Downton Abbey”) as fellow members of the British team that solved Germany’s Enigma system.
“Game” is poised to collect several Academy Award nods when nominations are announced early Thursday. Likely among them will be one for Moore’s script, which he based in part on Andrew Hodges’ 1983 Turing biography.
Norway’s Morten Tyldum directed the $14 million film, which was conceived by Americans but populated by Brits and shot in and around London, including at Bletchley Park, England’s World War II code-breaking headquarters. In wide release since Christmas Day, “Game” has taken in more $40 million at the U.S. box office and $64 million worldwide.
Audiences have responded to thrilling moments of the code-crackers racing for a solution to Enigma as bombs rain down on England, and to Cumberbatch’s soulful performance as Turing. Cumberbatch is heartbreaking as a man whose obsession with his work prevents him from meaningful human connection and whose homosexuality qualifies him as a criminal in 1940s England.
The machine Turing invented to crack Enigma has been credited as a precursor to the modern computer. But his fame, until now, has been confined to nerds.
“Alan Turing was kind of a campfire legend” at the tech camps he attended as a youth, Moore said. “‘Did you know that the man who actually invented the computer was gay?’ ‘Did you know that he won the Second World War?’”
“Game” folds secrets within subterfuge. The government forbids Turing and colleagues from revealing their classified mission, then hamstrings them morally by keeping them from preventing German attacks their technology allows them to anticipate. Doing so would blow their cover and compromise the larger war strategy.
Within the Bletchley group, alliances form based on friendship and on what each participant might have to lose. Leech, who accompanied Moore to San Francisco, plays John Cairncross, who serves as Turing’s confidant and foil.
“Cairncross and Turing both have a secret on each other, and the power of that is always the power of knowledge,” Leech said. “That is really what the movie deals with, the moral question of, once you have all the information, how do you deal with it? (The code-breakers) have to win the war, but to win that war, they have to let people die.”
The Bletchley Park crew burned all documents when the war ended, with the public privy to nothing about the Enigma project until it was declassified in the 1970s.
“Even now, you have got people who had been at Bletchley Park who still won’t talk about it publicly,” Moore said. “They say they made a promise to their government not to speak about it, and they don’t care if it is declassified.”
“As an American, there is something sort of wonderfully English about this veil of secrecy,” Moore continued. “Americans would never do that. We would tweet about it in five minutes.”
It makes sense, then, that an American team finally told Turing’s story on a big screen. That story is not triumphant for the mathematician nor his country. In 1952, Manchester authorities prosecuted British war hero Turing for homosexual acts.
“There is a tremendous reluctance to admit what happened to him,” Moore said. “I think it is hard for the government to talk about.”
“Having an outside perspective on a very British story gave it a much fresher, and much more honest, telling,” said Leech, who is Irish.
Moore said he hopes the film serves as a lesson in LGBT as well as World War II history.
“It is important to know that yes, there was a gay man at the very center of World War II,” Moore said. “For everyone to know it is a gay man who made that contribution is tremendously important.”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.