Lights, camera, action!
Much as A Beautiful Mind introduced millions of readers to the singular genius of John Nash as portrayed by Russell Crowe in an Oscar-winning performance, The Imitation Game—starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley,Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Charles Dance, among others, and arriving in theaters November 28—casts a spotlight on the accomplishments and contributions of Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing (1912–1954).
The movie draws inspiration from Andrew Hodges’s award-winning biography Alan Turing: The Enigma, which was originally published in 1983. Princeton University Press has released an updated, paperback movie edition complete with new material from the author that brings the story of Turing’s life current through the 2013 royal pardon of his conviction for homosexual activity. Movie-goers will no doubt be eager to learn more about Turing, an unlikely hero credited with turning the tide of World War II by cracking the German Enigma code, and Alan Turing: The Enigma offers the most authoritative and readable account of his life and work.
In celebration of #UPWeek, Princeton University Press sat down with mathematics editor, Vickie Kearn, to go behind the scenes of making a celebrated book into a major motion picture.
Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game
By Andrew Hodges
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades–all before his suicide at age forty-one. This acclaimed biography of the founder of computer science, with a new preface by the author that addresses Turing’s royal pardon in 2013, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life.
Capturing both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life, Andrew Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936–the concept of a universal machine–laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic account of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program–all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.
Alan Turing: The Enigma is a gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution.
Q&A with Mathematics Editor, Vickie Kearn
PUP: Tell us about when you first heard that a film based on Alan Turing: The Enigma would be produced. Were you excited? Nervous?
VK: This is a rather interesting story. In the fall of 2011, while planning for the Princeton University 2012 Turing Centennial Celebration, Bob Sedgewick, a professor at Princeton, contacted me about publishing a book on Alan Turing’s work, including his thesis which he wrote for his PhD at Princeton University. During this time he mentioned that there was a fantastic biography of Alan Turing written by Andrew Hodges and that the book was out of print in the US and had been for some time.
I contacted Andrew and found that I already knew his agent so I contacted him to make sure the US rights for the book were still available. The agent told me that they were and that plans were underway for a revival of the play Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitmore, which was based on the Hodges book. He also told me that a centennial edition of the book was planned by Vintage, who holds the UK rights. This all sounded very exciting, and with the forthcoming centennial events, the timing was perfect.
Just one month later the agent told me that the movie rights had been picked up by Warner Brothers and that the details of the casting, director, etc. should be known by late January of 2012. Princeton University Press worked jointly with Vintage to have the centenary edition of Alan Turing: The Enigma published in time for the centennial Turing events in May 2012, and I had little time to think too much about the movie. Time passed and the movie deal fell apart.
In the late summer of 2013, we learned that a new movie deal was struck and that Benedict Cumberbatch would be the lead actor. This was fantastic news, but I stayed rather calm because I knew by now that these things do fall apart. However, in late September I found out that Black Bear Pictures was the studio and that the movie was in pre-production. In April, we moved into high gear and began serious work on what would be in the movie edition of the book.
PUP: You worked directly with The Imitation Game’s film company and author Andrew Hodges during the making of the movie. What was your role, as editor of Alan Turing: The Enigma?
VK: I have worked with Andrew since 2011 and was very excited that we would be working on a new edition of his book and that we also would be collaborating again with Vintage in the UK. Because we decided to reset the book to improve the legibility, he had to proofread it again. That is a huge effort for a 750 page book. Everyone at the Weinstein Company has been fantastic. They respond quickly and have supported the publication of the book as much as we have supported the film. It has been a very exciting process. As editor, it is my job to make certain that all the pieces come together at the right time. In publishing, there are many steps to make sure your book is a success. They include the review, editing, design, printing, and binding phases and then we begin the marketing, publicity, and sales events. Everything has to happen at a particular time to make the best use of the efforts of everyone at the press. We need a book cover for ads and that has to be approved by the movie company. I have learned that is a very complicated process. Each of the movie companies decides what will be on the cover. For example, the cover of our book and that for the Vintage edition are different.
PUP: What was your favorite part about that interaction?
VK: The PUP publicist of the book, Jessica Pellien, and I have worked so far with about a dozen different people at Vintage and the Weinstein Company. You might think this is a bit chaotic, but it isn’t. It does take a bit of choreography, but it is working well. I think that my favorite part about this whole process is seeing the work of dozens of people come together and then holding the first copy of the book in my hand.
PUP: What do you, as the editor of Andrew Hodges’ book, hope that viewers take away from the film?
VK: I hope that they will realize what a huge contribution Alan Turing made to ending WWII and to the development of computer science. I hope that when someone says, “Can you name a computer scientist?” that they will say Alan Turing as quickly as they might say Albert Einstein when asked to name a physicist. I hope that people will understand that human relationships and love between people does not have to be heterosexual. I hope that people who see the film will also read the book.
PUP: When it comes to movies based on books, do you like to read the book before or after you see the movie?
VK: I always prefer to read the book first. I hope that people who see the film will also read the book. They are two different experiences and both are incredibly enjoyable.
Watch the trailer for the The Imitation Game below. Get that edge over fellow movie-goers and check out Chapter One of Alan Turing: The Enigma here.
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