Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry Call for Pardons for Gays Persecuted Alongside 'Imitation Game' Subject

If the presumptive best picture Oscar frontrunner Boyhood has an Achilles' heel, it is that its story, about 12 years in the life of a fictional family, is not about anything of a greater social or historical import, as most previous recipients of the prize have been. The same, of course, is true of Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, in that they focus on imagined stories or, in the case of Theory, the personal life of a historical figure — but not, most would argue, Selma, American Sniper or The Imitation Game. And with Selma and Sniper immersed in controversy about the accuracy of their depictions of historical events, that may leave an opening for The Imitation Game.

To that end, a number of developments in recent days — largely organic, and then subsequently amplified by the savvy Weinstein Co. — have served to remind people about the social and historical significance of Imitation Game subject Alan Turing, the gay British mathematician-turned-war hero who died in 1954, disrespected or forgotten by many of the countrymen whose lives his code-breaking saved.

Read more 'The Imitation Game': Telluride Review

(Spoiler alert: Turing was prosecuted by his own country for being gay, which was illegal at the time, and was given the horrible choice of being chemically castrated or serving two years behind bars. He chose the former not long before committing suicide.)

Following a screening of The Imitation Game at London's Ham Yard Hotel on Wednesday, Stephen Fry, the noted British actor/comedian, who also is gay, led a discussion about the "wonderful film," in front of a room packed with BAFTA voters, with its costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ, set decorator Tatiana Macdonald and two of its supporting actors, Alex Lawther (young Turing) and Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton, one of Turing's fellow code-breakers at Bletchley Park).

As part of his closing remarks, Fry insisted that Queen Elizabeth II's pardon of Turing in 2013 — which happened only after a vocal campaign by a new generation of his countrymen — was just the start of what should be done to honor Turing (he called for Turing to appear on the back of the next British 10 Pound bank note, as Imitation Game star Benedict Cumberbatch and others also have), and also an action that should be accorded to the tens of thousands of other Brits who may not have been math geniuses or war heroes but were also prosecuted by their country for being gay.

"Should Alan Turing have been pardoned just because he was a genius," Fry asked, "when somewhere between 50 to 70 thousand other men were imprisoned, chemically castrated, had their lives ruined or indeed committed suicide because of the laws under which Turing suffered? There is a general feeling that perhaps if he should be pardoned, then perhaps so should all of those men, whose names were ruined in their lifetime, but who still have families." He continued, "It was a nasty, malicious and horrific law and one that allowed so much blackmail and so much misery and so much distress. Turing stands as a figure symbolic to his own age in the way that Oscar Wilde was, who suffered under a more but similar one."

Cumberbatch, meanwhile, emailed THR from the set of the next Sherlock series to offer his full and enthusiastic agreement with Fry's idea. "Alan Turing was not only prosecuted, but quite arguably persuaded to end his own life early, by a society who called him a criminal for simply seeking out the love he deserved, as all human beings do. 60 years later, that same government claimed to ‘forgive’ him by pardoning him. I find this deplorable, because Turing’s actions did not warrant forgiveness — theirs did — and the 49,000 other prosecuted men deserve the same."

Chad Griffin, the president of Human Rights Campaign — the largest LGBT and human rights organization in the U.S., which is set to honor The Imitation Game at its Human Rights Gala on Jan. 31 — and an early champion of The Imitation Game, also got behind the idea. After seeing a series of New York Times articles earlier this month in which LGBT, tech and military leaders endorsed The Imitation Game, Griffin reached out to the Weinstein Co. to offer a fresh endorsement of his own, which ran in the Times on Jan. 22 (see below) and championed the same cause that Fry is advocating.

Griffin wrote: "What was his crime? Winston Churchill said Alan Turing 'made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory in World War II.'  His crime was being gay. Over 49,000 other gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same law. Turing was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. The others were not. Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000."

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg