Eucharist and Euler

Today, in Paris, it is cold with scattered showers. A very two-dimensional day, in fact. 
Celebrity wedding and the Georges V up the road
In a moment of binary indecision, I elected to catch the first available train, the crawler which stopped conveniently at Charles de Gaulle Etoile whose Champs-Elysées exit heaves to outside the Montblanc shop. A ten minute stroll just squeaked me into the American Cathedral for the Sunday morning bunfest,  entitled Holy Eucharist – the second binary decision, rather than a Metro ride to ACP as usual. The upside is that it’s in one of the most prestigious streets in town, the down being that it was unfortunately the day of the Annual General Meeting, where officials who do impenetrable jobs are elected, shanghaied or otherwise hauled like recalcitrant infantry or eager ensigns into position. A lady Venerable conducted proceedings, a species I’ve not encountered before, with a musical voice and a sadly prescribed sermon – apparently she is forced by some by-law to explain proceedings to the unenlightened. Amidst the candelabra, Proper Psalms and an enthusiastic organist, it felt a bit like school chapel, forty-five years ago, Stanford’s Te Deum being the Eucharistic prelude.
I was sitting at the back behind a man in an overtight suit who bobbed up and down to some deep ecclesiastical rhythm of his own, kneeling bolt upright, sometimes bowing. I felt a bit seasick, thus left during a desultorily Episcopalian version of the Peace, to go see a film. Third binary decision – which? Conveniently, “The Imitation Game” with the breathy but slightly improbable Kiera Knightley as Joan Clarke and a tortured Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic, impenetrably brilliant Alan Turing, was on.
Was that Meccano? As in, did it exist in 1941?


Four geeks and a spy
Turing broke Enigma, with never a crack on his own varnish of narcissistic, humourless singleness of purpose, and with so little outward material on which to base a character, we are left with Cumberbatch’s interpretation of a man with the emotional intelligence of a child surrounded by idiots, rather like Russell Crowe in ‘A Beautiful Mind’, but with far less violence. For a moment, one got to watch as the greatest cryptanalysts, crossword enthusiasts and mathematicians Cambridge in the early 1940’s was capable of producing attempted to crack the Enigma Code, using a hand-built logical machine, the precursor of a modern computer.
Young Alan at Sherborne. Lonely and in love
The film swung between Turing as a child (with a spectacularly deep and believable performance from Alex Lawther, whose filmography includes “X+Y”, the story of a young prodigy and his place on the British Mathematics Olympiad team), Bletchley Park – conveniently downsized – at its height, over 9,000 people worked there, and his postwar years as a lonely soul with just a machine for company. Plus a conviction for indecency for which, in order to escape jail, he had to undergo stilboestrol treatment – chemical castration – which may have contributed to his mental condition prior to his suicide a year later.
It’s fairly obvious Oscar-fodder for Cumberbatch, less so for Knightley – even she can’t make herself sexy enough for mathematics and for one with a double First, being unable to correctly pronounce “Euler” was a bit unconvincing.  Tightly layered screenplay and enough not said to maintain interest, the film will certainly win something – everybody loves films about clever fowk what’re a bit odd. Especially when they’re trying hard not to be queer when everyone knows that they are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.