Historical truth, to adapt Oscar Wilde, is rarely pure and never simple, and getting it right is more difficult when history is presented in condensed form. Contention has arisen over two current films: Selma and The Imitation Game. In Selma, what’s at issue is its presentation of President Johnson’s support (or lack thereof) for voting rights; in The Imitation Game, a great deal more is being questioned, from the depiction of Alan Turing’s character to details about historical events. Suggested reading:
- On Selma, a column by Maureen Dowd published in The New York Times over the weekend
- On The Imitation Game, an NYRblog post from mid-December by Christian Caryl
Turing presents a case broadly comparable to that of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the United States; both were vastly accomplished, heroically dedicated, and unjustly condemned. Any effort to dramatize either of these men faces, among other things, the challenge of making their enormously complicated achievements intelligible. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any American scriptwriters who could present a substantial portrait of either figure, but I’d love to see what Tom Stoppard or Michael Frayn could come up with. I’m aware of Hugh Whitemore’s play Breaking the Code, which deals with Turing, but I’ve neither seen it nor read it. Surprisingly, the opera Doctor Atomic, composed by John Adams to a collage-like libretto by Peter Sellars, speaks very suggestively of Oppenheimer while remaining limited to the period around the Trinity test in 1945.
Ordinarily, I’d say more than this, but a case of shingles is still sapping my concentration.