The Imitation Game and the Big Lie[email protected]
As we get towards Academy Awards night, every Friday I will be writing an essay on the themes from one of the films nominated for Oscar for Best Film. Today, the British film ‘The Imitation Game’.
** (2 stars out of 5)
The Imitation Game is a film full of historical inaccuracies, class-ridden nonsense and soap opera that surround two extraordinary performances. The first is Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the homosexual genius who was instrumental in cracking the German military code during the Second World War.
Cumberbatch plays his usual ‘crazy-but-smartest-man-in-the-room’ role with exceptional sensitivity. He fully deserves his Oscar nomination for best male actor. However, there is another actor in the film who turns in a better performance: Alex Lawther, as the young Turing. His is only a supporting role, but Lawther haunts the film. In one scene, the camera focuses on his face as it registers a remarkable range of hope, happiness, love, loneliness, worry and then deep disappointment. Nothing is said. There is no dialogue. No ‘scene’. Yet Lawther is brilliant. It is an acting reminiscent of a young Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun.
However, for these two wonderful performances the Imitation Game is yet one more example of the Big Lie that dominates much of the current historical discussion in England. The Big Lie is that the English won the Second World War. Specifically, the Big Lie is that the English upper-middle class won the Second World War without much help from anyone else.
To be clear, the English ended up on the winning side, but they did not win the Second World War.
To be even more clear, my Anglo-Irish father and just about all of my male (and some female) relatives fought in that war from the Battle of the Atlantic, to piloting Spitfires, to pulling people out of burning buildings during the London Blitz. What I write is what those generations knew and spoke about frequently. It is now being deliberately covered up by this generation of English upper-middle class media commentators. There are a whole slew of books, TV series and films that downplay the real truth of the war and talk up the Big Lie.
The historical truth is that the Soviet Army beat the Germans. They accomplished this task almost by themselves. I am not being disrespectful, only accurate. In the west, aside from military buffs, we are rarely taught this history. Yet the statistics and list of battles on the Eastern Front beggars the imagination. Even the Battle of Berlin, in the final days of the war was by no means the inevitable victory that it is portrayed. All of these battles were won by Soviet blood – nearly one in four of their entire population died during the conflict.
The Big Lie that claims the English won it all without much help from anyone, is a product of the English media – not British. Generally, the few Scots, Irish or Welsh people who appear in the UK films of the last twenty-years are almost always flawed Celtic odd-balls in contrast to sensible, heroic Englishmen: from Rhys Ifans as the idiotic Welsh room-mate in Notting Hill to the slimy Irish boyfriend in Sliding Doors to the lone, flawed Scotsman in Imitation Game.
The Big Lie also comes specifically from the English upper-middle class. In the Imitation Game, the real villains are not the Nazis, but a bunch of thick, labouring Northern policemen. In reality, the English establishment had a pretty crappy 1930s and 40s. When they were not sucking up to the Nazis (Edward the VIIIth was by no means the only aristocratic fan of ‘Herr Hitler’): a bunch of them infiltrated British Intelligence for Stalin: or they oversaw a catalogue of military disasters from Hong Kong to Norway to Crete that led the British Empire to its ultimate destruction.
In this year of the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, there are a number of important reasons for us to accurately remember this history.
The first problem is the idea that they saved us: that a bunch of plucky upper-class Englishmen led the world to freedom; is utter nonsense. The truth is that we saved them. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians went over to fight. Our country, along with America, Australia, India, New Zealand and many other countries sustained them when they were on the brink of starvation. To forget these facts feeds the colonial dog that lives in the heart of many Canadians. It is to betray the courage and self-sacrifice of our own people.
The second issue is that – right now – there is a Cold War in the Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics. If we knew the real story of the Second World War we would not under-estimate either the capacity of the Russian military or their genuine connection with this land. I am not excusing Vladimir Putin. I am saying that large tracts of the former Soviet Union that are currently in dispute are sacred to many Russians. Their people bled and died for it.
The last issue is the whole message of the film – a smart group of insiders who secretly control the destiny of the rest of us – is uncomfortably close to spy service propaganda. Currently, as Edward Snowden and many others have shown, there is a group of people who spy on the rest of us. However, they are, largely, a bunch of self-serving bureaucrats who are more interested in institutional agendas than protecting us. To forget this fact is to give way to a whole new Big Lie that is even more terrifying than the one that enwraps the Imitation Game.
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