The ‘Imitation’ Shame: Is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Awards Hopeful Hiding In The Closet?

The Alan Turing biopic is great with numbers, but murky when it comes to depicting of the code breaker’s homosexuality

Last Updated: December 2, 2014 @ 8:14 PM

“The Imitation Game” is an awards contender with pedigree to spare: star power in Benedict Cumberbatch, a prestige-loving distributor in The Weinstein Company and a staggering box office performance in limited release.

But moviegoers and certain media outlets are raising concerns over the hushed bedroom politics around the film’s subject, gay mathematician Alan Turing.

“He’s never seen with any male love interest,” longtime entertainment journalist Wayman Wong wrote TheWrap in an email and commented on Entertainment Weekly’s website. “We are told Turing is gay, but it’s as if the picture is afraid to show he is … this robs Turing of his humanity and leaves our hero as cryptic as the Enigma machine.”

In early November, UK Sunday Times columnist Jonathan Dean claimed a version of the film’s script, adapted from the biography “Alan Turning: The Enigma,” contained a passionate love scene that was later removed.

“[The script] has the heroic gay mathematician and another man ‘tugging off each other’s clothes’, ‘hungry’ for sex. We see something raw and real and truly human in Alan that we’ve never seen before. He’s not a machine after all,” Dean said.

In the finished film, the audience gets glimpses of a budding love affair Turing has with classmate Christopher Morcum, but these images are fleeting. As the majority of the film takes place at London cipher school Bletchley Park, the central relationship developed is instead between Cumberbatch and actress Keira Knightley‘s characters.

“I’m not sure thar we are either limiting or masking his homosexuality in any way,” Teddy Schwarzman, one of the “Imitation” producers, told TheWrap.

“The relationship with Christopher Morcum was Turing’s defining relationship … but the core of the story focuses on his time at Bletchley Park, which he described in letters as a ‘sexual desert.'”

Graham Moore’s script was originally optioned by Warner Bros., who attached director J. Blakeson (“The Disappearance of Alice Creed”) to the project. Blakeson inserted the love scene to which the Sunday Times article referred, Schwarzman said. He said the shooting script, credited to Moore, never contained a sex scene.

“At one point they brought on a director who came and did his polish. He changed the draft relatively radically … so the fact that we’re somehow to trying to scrub away Turing’s homosexuality is kind of shocking [to say],” said Schwarzman.

Reps for Blakeson had no comment.

Turing is responsible for deciphering Nazi enigma codes for the British during World War II, was jailed for crimes of homosexuality in the 1950s and sentenced to chemical castration. While “Imitation” expounds on his turbulent genius, there’s little to demonstrate the sexuality that made Turing a pariah in his time.

“From a filmmaking standpoint there was a desire to stay as factually accurate as we could, but at the same time make sure we weren’t being exploitative of his sexuality,” Shwarzman said.

TheWrap’s Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman asked Cumberbatch directly about the lack of on-screen sex during a conversation at September’s Toronto Film Festival (watch the video here).

“That’s not an exploration of someone’s sex life,” Cumberbatch said, quick to defend director Morten Tyldum’s vision. ” … he talks about entreating a young man to touch his penis. I mean, it’s pretty explicit. If you need to see that to understand that he’s gay, all is lost for any kind of subtle story telling.”

“To me, it’s not something that needed to be obvious. The conversations are so naked in themselves that the idea of having to see two naked men, it wasn’t something I thought was missing,” he added.

That’s debatable, even for Turing purists.

“The fact is, Turing’s sexuality was a critical part of the life he lived,” Patrick Sammon, creator and executive producer of the 2011 Turing docu-drama “Codebreaker,” told TheWrap. 

“I don’t pretend to be an expert in how the sausage is made in a release like this, all I know is there’s a long history, certainly in recent years, of trying to de-gay films,” said Sammon, who has yet to see “The Imitation Game.”

And perhaps not the first time for a Weinstein film. In 1998, when power brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein ran Miramax, gay love scenes were reportedly scrubbed from “54,” the production company’s glossy flick about of the 70’s nightlife institution. Time constraints were cited as a reason for trimming the action, one report said.

“I would hope that the only considerations for [changes] made for ‘The Imitation Game’ were from creative places and not for commercial reasons,” Sammon said.

Schwarzman is confident in the film’s accuracy in both Turing’s sexuality and his love for Morcum as its pulse. In fact, he finds it antiquated for movies to use sex scenes in conveying love and sexuality.

“I think it’s sort of an old fashioned view, the need to see a gay sex scene to have a film that’s about gay love, gay rights and gay injustice,” Schwarzman said.

Watch TheWrap’s video of Benedict Cumberbatch answering why the film has no love scenes: