Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

SCREENWASH TV DRAMA ROUND-UP (JULY 2018) INC. REVIEWS OF: PATRICK MELROSE, LIAR, THE ALIENIST ETC.

SCREENWASH TV DRAMA ROUND-UP – JULY 2018

In my continued desire to avoid perpetual and dysfunctional alcoholism, while saving money and contemplating the meaning of existence, I often fill up my hours watching quality television dramas. Here are some reviews of shows I have caught up with over the last few months, with the usual Screenwash marks out of eleven.

THE ALIENIST (2018) – NETFLIX

Based on Caleb Carr’s best-selling novel of the same name, The Alienist, while feeling very familiar has enough style and acting quality to make it worth recommending. Set in the grimy streets of New York circa mid-1890s the period setting and production design exquisitely juxtaposes the filth and squalor of the underclasses with the opulence of the wealthy. Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans and Daniel Bruhl are uniformly excellent as an unlikely trio of “criminologists” who, on invite from the Chief of Police, investigate the ritualistic murders of young, poor kids in the ghettos. Adapted by, among others by the very talented Cary Joji Fukunaga, Eric Roth and Hossein Amini, this is overall a compelling, gruesome and hypnotic genre drama which entertains throughout its ten episode running time.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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HIT AND MISS (2012) – SKY ATLANTIC

I missed this gritty drama the first time round from Sky when released in 2012 and it certainly pushes boundaries of gender politics within a genre setting. Created by the prolific British writer Paul Abbott it stars Chloe Sevigny as a hit-woman with a secret. Sevigny’s complex character Mia is in fact, a pre-op trans-gender person, living a lone-wolf existence working for Peter Wight’s fixer character. Her anonymous contract-killing life is interrupted when she is thrown into a surrogate mother situation and that’s when the real drama begins. This is not a programme for the faint-hearted with lashings of physical and sexual violence but the excellent cast, notably the outstanding Sevigny, drive this edgy mix of family and thriller genres with compelling power.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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LIAR (2017) – ITV

This ITV drama is founded on the tantalisingly tricky premise of a “she said, he said” date rape case. It is to the testament of the writers, director and actors that the first three episodes provided absorbing suspense as to who is or who isn’t telling the truth. It begins with a primary school teacher, Laura, portrayed with nervy zeal by Joanne Froggatt, accepting a date with handsome surgeon, Andrew Earlham. They seem like a perfect couple but the following day Laura accuses him of rape. The drama comes very much from whether he is guilty and whether she has made it up. Star of Hollywood movies and US TV shows, Ioan Gruffudd, returns to British TV to play Earlham with a charming charisma which makes you question whether he could do such a thing. Halfway through the series though, the show becomes something altogether more sinister. Without wishing to give anything away I can recommend Liar for handling such a delicate subject well, while at the same time creating a powerful and suspenseful narrative throughout.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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PATRICK MELROSE (2018) – SKY ATLANTIC

Oh, Benedict, Benedict!  I love you so!  Yet again I witnessed another masterclass in acting from Mr Cumberbatch as he shows all variants of emotional range in this high quality character study. The series is adapted from Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical books of the same name. Moreover, the structure is interesting in that each of the five episodes focus on different periods of Melrose’ privileged, yet tortuous, existence. We open with a drug-addled Patrick high on smack and then follow a frantic dash to New York to pick up his fathers’ ashes. Initially, Patrick is selfish, biting, wasted and full of fear and self-loathing. In fact he is not likeable at all. However, the first episode then delivers the gut-wrenching truth about the characters’ past and a truly harrowing event at the hands of his tyrannical father. The dramatic glue of the whole series is provided by Patrick’s memories of his fathers’ terrible behaviour – portrayed with rotten humanity by Hugo Weaving. Later episodes find Patrick battling addictions, his mothers’ negative do-gooding, starting a family and just trying to do what most of us do: hold it together emotionally in the face of the slings and arrows life throws at us. Full of complex emotional moments, brilliant acting and stinging one-liners, this is television of the highest order.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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SAVE ME (2017) – SKY ATLANTIC

Written by and starring the magnetic British actor Lenny James, this urban crime thriller boasts an exceptional cast and addictive narrative. James takes a performance risk casting himself and a low-life chancer called Nelly, who is suddenly the suspect in the kidnapping of a daughter he hardly knows. Nelly is an ex-con-alcoholic-love-rat who gets by on his charisma and street smarts but still manages to aggravate those around him. When his teenage daughter goes missing he becomes an unlikely amateur detective, attempting some form of redemption having just signed her over to his ex-wife years before. The familiar kidnapping storyline kind of runs out of steam over six episodes, however, James and his brilliant cast including: Stephen Graham, Suranne Jones, Susan Lynch, Kerry Godliman and Jason Flemyng all excel. I also loved the gritty council estate setting and the authentic nature of the characters really drove the story forward.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista,  Zoe Saldana. Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt etc.

**SPOILER FREE**

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The reward for Marvel fans and cinemagoers committed to watching every single film – from Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018) – is a gigantic, breath-taking, explosive, colourful, dark, epic, fantastical end-game blockbuster. Unless you have been stuck on a desert island or on a digital detox, Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of decades of comic-book and cinema storytelling coming to a head in one incredible feat of spectacle and super-hero conflict.

The film opens pretty much immediately after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has hunted down Thor, Loki and the Hulk in order to obtain the Tesseract and the Infinity Stone within it. In fact, he is after all six Infinity Stones in order to gain twisted, yet in his mind, logical control over the Universe by killing half its inhabitants. Thanos’ characterization as a villain is given the most narrative power throughout and via him we get some nuance and subtext.

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While brilliantly rendered, in look, by the army of special effects, and performance by Brolin, I kind of felt we were missing an element of mania and a committed statement of intent. I knew why Thanos was doing what he was doing but aside from an opening speech about destiny his mission lacked the political or social context compared to say that of Hydra from The Winter Soldier (2014) or Erik Killmonger from Black Panther (2018).  Nonetheless, lack of political context is a mild gripe because spectacle in terms of power and storytelling is what Infinity War is all about.

Thanos’ quest for domination was still a pretty decent structure to hang the story beats on and the writers should be applauded for trying to create a rounded super-villain. Because, allied with the incredible set-pieces and locations across the various galaxies, a major strength of Infinity War’s screenplay was the pace, power and interplay between the multiverse of characters and plot strands which were fantastically juggled by the directorial and editorial teams. This was epic storytelling, not just in length, but in scope. As we cut between Dr Strange, Iron Man and Spiderman on their particularly deadly mission; we also cut between Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and their respective advnetures. There are so many different elements at play there is little breathing space, yet with a whip-smart script full of one-liners any plot deficiencies are masked expertly with perpetual motion and punchlines.

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Visually, the film is also extremely strong with bright funky new suits for the Hulk, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Moreover, the locations in space and on Earth from the dark lands of Vormir to the verdant pastures of Wakanda are rendered beautifully on the screen. All manner of magical weapons, space-ships and military hardware explode and destroy and whizz-bang throughout. There is SO much crammed into the film that it’s a major coup that it worked so well. At one point I felt like I was watching three films in one echoing the great ensemble films I grew up with such as The Great Escape (1963). While the now obligatory end-game battle sequence echoed the likes of: Spartacus (1960), Braveheart (1995), The Return of the Jedi (1985) and more recently HBO’s epic Game of Thrones (2011 – )

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In terms of performance it’s difficult to pick out any one stand-out as the ensemble cast were uniformly impressive. My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, all giving memorable performances. Saldana’s Gamora arguably had the most powerful moments of stillness and pathos especially in her tragic backstory. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker nailed their comedic patter too; the former’s deadpan literalism raising many laughs throughout. I also thought the details in look and voice given to Thanos’ Black Order stood out; notably the wonderfully named Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael John Shaw).

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In conclusion, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) overall was spectacular blockbuster filmmaking which entertained me thoroughly for over two-and-a-half-hours. It could be argued that the army of special effects technicians, plethora of Disney and Marvel executives, array of Hollywood acting and filmmaking talent and the obscene amount of money spent has churned out YET another soulless super-hero film but wow didn’t they do it in style!!

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH SPECIAL- ARRIVAL, DR STRANGE & NOCTURNAL ANIMALS REVIEWED

SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER CINEMA SPECIAL – by PAUL LAIGHT

I often have all my reviews for the month in one place but occasionally I split them, as is the case here. I haven’t seen that many films at the cinema this month but the three I did see were all excellent in their own way. Here are my reviews with marks out of eleven.

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

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ARRIVAL (2016)

The wonderfully serene Amy Adams portrays, Louise Banks, an academic linguist whose standing is such that when Earth is visited by twelve spaceships, she is called in by the military to attempt communication. Governments all over the world try various methods in which to discover whether the aliens are intending to attack. What are their primary intentions or targets? Are they friends or foe?

As it is directed by the supremely talented Denis Villeneuve the film moves at a careful but considered pace. When Adam’s accompanies Jeremy Renner’s physicist, Ian Donnelly we at first see the inside of the alien craft and it’s not long before we are faced with the strange-looking cephalopod-type creatures. The narrative meat becomes a series of attempts by Banks and Donnelly to try and crack the visual alien code. Meanwhile, the Chinese and Russians are becoming impatient and, like the Americans, considering attacking the spaceships in a pre-emptive military measure.

I won’t say any more because it would risk ruining the story but what unfolds is a clever and mind-bending turn of events which upsides genre expectations. The intriguing premise, brilliant script, ambient score, stylish effects, subtle cinematography and purposeful direction make this one of the best films I have seen all year. It is an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative which constantly surprised and moved me.  It also asks big questions on the nature of time, existence and love; informing us that not all extra-terrestrial life in movies has to be monstrous and deadly.  (Mark 10 out of 11)

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DR STRANGE (2016)

Marvel, like they did with Ant-Man (2015) take a lesser known character in Dr Stephen Strange and turn it into one of the most entertaining and spellbinding blockbusters of the year.  To be honest none of this should work, however, it is a testament to the work of a committed director in Scott Derrickson and formidable heavyweight acting cast including: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and imperious Tilda Swinton, that this mystical soufflé works so well.

Cumberbatch, filtering his Sherlock persona wonderfully, is a gifted, yet arrogant neurosurgeon who following a bone-crunching automobile accident finds his gifted hands are no good to man nor beast. His attempts at physical rehabilitation prove unsuccessful so he goes on a spiritual journey to Nepal in an attempt to fix his damaged body and soul. There he meets Mordo (Ejiofor) and subsequently The Ancient One (Swinton) and that’s where the real fun starts.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this. Its pacey plot zips along rapidly with some fine comedic one-liners. Cumberbatch and Swinton stand out amongst a fine cast with both of them imbuing their characters with a depth beyond your usual super-hero film. While the origins story is standard genre stuff the magical gifts and capes Dr Strange uses are wonderful fun, as are the hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping Inceptionesque fight scenes plus mystical marvels straight out of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lastly, Derrickson deserves praise for several cracking set-pieces notably the out-of-body fight in the hospital and complex temporal-twisting combat with inter-dimensional beast Dormammu. Strange days are indeed upon as Marvel spellbinds us with yet another big comic-book hit. (Mark 9 out of 11)

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NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Filmmaker Tom Ford’s debut film A Single Man (2009) was an eloquent character study of grief, loneliness and existential romance; beautifully photographed, styled and constructed with Colin Firth’s heartfelt performance providing the thudding beats of pathos and pain. It was a film I only saw recently but knew that the director was definitely one to follow, and thus, his second film Nocturnal Animals promised much.

Nocturnal Animals is an altogether colder beast centring on separation of love rather than the meditation on loss like A Single Man. The once again brilliant Amy Adams is a privileged art gallery owner married to Armie Hammer’s rich, yet absent, businessman. She is a hollow woman musing about her failed previous marriage to writer Jake Gyllenhaal and the apparent emptiness of her life, career and the people around her. It is a testament to Ford and Adams that they extricate empathy for such a seemingly spoilt character, but they ably demonstrate that wealth does not defeat loneliness or the guilt of past actions.

Adams’ Susan Morrow is similar to Firth’s George Falconer in that she is lost and flailing in her first world but very human problems. Thrown into the mix is the about-to-be-published book her former husband has written and sent her. So, we end up with two stories for the price of one as the events in the manuscript come to life in Susan’s mind. As she reads it, Jake Gyllenhaal’s (yes, he plays two characters) family are terrorized on a backwater freeway by Aaron Johnson’s violent gang. Michael Shannon also pops up as a busted lung of a cop sick of the scum and his turn is a delight.The sun-bleached, desert and neo-Western style in these episodes provide a fascinating and stylistic juxtaposition to shadowy, cool darkness that is Susan Morrow’s life in Los Angeles.

The two stories collide, compare and contrast each other to fascinating effect as Ford weaves literary and cinematic tropes, brilliantly adapting the original novel on which is it based – Tony and Susan – written by Austin Wright. This, overall, is about storytelling being used as a means not only to haunt and create guilt, but also wreak revenge. It’s a complex watch but beautiful, cold creature to look at. Yet, despite the privilege of Amy Adam’s character I was thoroughly absorbed by her crumbling psyche, while the book within the film is totally gripping too. (Mark 9.5 out of 11)

MY EIGHT FAVOURITEST FILMS OF 2014 BY PAUL LAIGHT

MY EIGHT FAVOURITEST CINEMA FILMS OF 2014

BY

PAUL LAIGHT

In 2014 I set myself a project which was to write a review for every film I saw at the cinema and post on my blog.  I viewed TWENTY-EIGHT films at the cinema in 2014 and pretty much achieved my writing goal aside from one anomaly which is in hand.

Why EIGHT you may ask?  Well, I wanted to put a bit of pressure on myself to really nail these choices and TOP TEN’S are a bit obvious too.  Of course there are loads of films I DID NOT see plus many, many more films I did see on DVD, Netflix and Sky but you can only judge a films’ true qualities by watching it on the big screen.

So, these are my TOP EIGHT FAVOURITEST CINEMA FILMS OF 2014. They are maybe not necessarily the most-awards-friendly-critically- acclaimed films hence but they are the ones which completely blew me away when I saw them.  They are ALL films I saw at the cinema BUT for one which is a TV movie.  If you’ve seen it you’ll know why it’s on the list.

For the record the list will include:  the film title; link to original review; quote from post; and a clip.

**MASSIVE SPOILERS**

  1. UNDER THE SKIN (2013) – Director: JONATHAN GLAZER

UNIQUE filmmaking comes along every so often into the Multiplexes. This is cinematic Art of the highest quality, a sheer visual treat and an unnerving and very memorable experience…

..like all great art it stayed with me and I could not get it out of my mind. And I still can’t. It’s not a super-hero film. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a 3-D CGI sick-fest. It’s pure, pulsing, hypnotic cinema of the highest quality…”

2.  TRUE DETECTIVE (2014) – Creator: NIC PIZZOLATTO – Director: CARY FUKUNAGA

**Yes I know this wasn’t on the cinema but it should’ve been!**

“Writer Nic Pizzolatto delivers a corrupt vision of humanity,
Amidst the Cajun swamps we’re in David Fincher territory,
Standard cop stuff like the Chief screaming “you’re off the case!”,
Is deftly masked by Cary Fukunaga’s directorial style and pace,

McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is post-modern Sherlock,
He will never cease until the mystery is unlocked,
Allied with Harrelson’s Watson the two just won’t stop,
Title may say True Detective but it should be Existential Cop!”

3.  NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – Director: DAN GILROY

“Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast… Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!”

4.   CAPTAIN AMERICA – THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – Directors: RUSSO BROTHERS

“Captain America: TWS delivers in a way The Avengers did. Although it’s a darker, grounded and more complex film as the screenplay transplants the story of conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) into the Marvel Universe… links well the past and present; soldiers attempting to come to terms with post-war issues; Roger’s regret over historical events and a touching Benjamin Buttonesque scene with a character from the first movie. Moreover, there’s also some neat socio-political commentary in their too with references to shadowy NSA operations and Government kill lists.  Of course none of this gets in the way of the rip-roaring action.”

5.   WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) – Director: MARTIN SCORCESE

“Martin Scorcese is one of the greatest living filmmakers still working today and The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from his other films.  You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves;  the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino and Goodfellas; the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear; the multi-character voiceovers;  the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit;   characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen most recently in The Departed; plus many more.” 

6.  GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) – Director: JAMES GUNN

“I loved this film for so many reasons.  It’s a nostalgic rush and push of music, action, fantastical creatures, space operatics, zinging one-liners, knowing humour, spectacular effects and in Chris Pratt — a new cinema star (lord) for the millennium is born.  Let’s be honest there isn’t an original bone in its body but the fleshy pastiche and meaty cultural references Guardians of the Galaxy wears proudly on its sleeves take the audience on one hell of a journey”

7.   DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) – Director: MATT REEVES

“… the original book and 1968 film and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs.  Overall, the Apes series is a conceptual and cultural phenomenon and Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.”

8.   THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – Director: MORTEN TYLDUM

“There is so much heartache in the character of Turing.  The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism.  And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.”

THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

 THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MASSIVE SPOILERS IN HERE. SORRY**

Films based on “true” stories are interesting to review as they will inevitably distort situations in the name of drama. I personally do not mind if a film compresses times, characters and incidents as I am interested firstly in my emotional response to the story and characters more than historical authenticity.  If I want accuracy I’ll rely on Wikipedia.

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Yet, as films based on ‘real’ events go The Imitation Game (2014) is a creditable distillation of the WWII code-breaking heroics as well as being a high class theatrical tragedy in cinematic form.  Having said that while the film acts as an excellent tribute to the genius of Alan Turing (phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch), the work of others in the field such as the Polish code-breakers, Tommy Flowers and many others must also be recognised. But perhaps that is for another film altogether.

I didn’t know much about main protagonist Alan Turing prior to seeing this movie but having done some basic research one soon realises what a great British hero he was in terms of cracking the Nazi Enigma codes. Moreover, his incredible mind also contributed in some way to the invention of what you are reading this very review on right now. No, not http://www.wordpress.com but the actual computer itself.

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The fact that one of humanity’s greatest minds was treated so badly because of his homosexuality is a genuine war crime.  It’s also a massive indictment AGAINST the Government and the Official Secrets Act that Turing is only just being truly recognised for his outstanding work in the last few years.  Indeed, one of the films main strengths — not forgetting Andrew Hodges’ book on which it is based —  in bringing Turing’s story to the screen is it acts as a thrilling monument to a man so cruelly destroyed by an intolerant 1950s society.

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The narrative switches between Turing’s life pre-war, post-war and in-between.  Graham Moore’s screenplay is deftly written and well-paced; both personable and witty. In terms of genre we are in biography and war film territories with a sprinkling of espionage and suspense thrown in.  The code-cracking team at Bletchley Park are a kind of super-intelligent version of Marvel’s Avengers and include a handsome cast supporting Cumberbatch including: Matthew Goode (the next James Bond I reckon), always reliable Mark Strong and a commendable turn from Keira Knightley.

Firstly the team clashes with the prickly and arrogant Turing. Then, of course, over time they come to respect him. Meanwhile, idiosyncratic Turing finds his main ally in Joan Clarke (Knightley) as their “romance” becomes the heartbeat of the piece amidst the manipulation of machines.  Both hearts and minds are drawn to each other and the two get engaged. But Turing’s sexuality proves an obstacle to the marriage and there’s a wonderful scene which reflects this; beautifully played by Cumberbatch and Knightley and echoes — albeit more seriously — the classic “No one’s perfect” end-scene from Some Like It Hot (1959).

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There is so much heartache in the character of Turing.  The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism.  And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.

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This is a tremendous drama directed by Morten Tyldum which is arguably more televisual than filmic. Indeed, it reminded of those amazing BBC Play For Today productions I grew up watching when a young boy. It works mainly as a fine biopic of an incredible man so cruelly persecuted for just being born slightly different. Yet it is also has touching romance and high drama as shown when having  cracked the Enigma the team face the agony of having to hide the fact as a strategy to win the war. Ultimately, I left the cinema uplifted by the work these amazing code-breakers did and but also with anger in my heart; anger at the damned British Government for not rewarding Alan Turing for his miraculous contribution to the war effort. He deserved so much more.