Do Writers Play an Imitation Game with the Truth?

Do writers sometimes embellish or omit facts to make true stories more interesting and if they do, is this acceptable?

Bletchley Park was among the many sights we visited when we lived in England. We spent the better part of a day there and I must confess, although I love history and did the Jack the Ripper walking tour in London twice, not being familiar with the story of Alan Turing and how he helped to decipher the messages sent by the Germans during WWII, I found the excursion rather boring.

We saw the Enigma machine which had been captured from the Germans in WWII and wandered in and out of a couple of the little huts that had been used during the war by people intercepting and attempting to decode the enemy’s messages. There were dozens of these huts as I recall and most of them were in very poor condition evidentially abandoned when the war ended. The edifice of the main building (see the post image) struck me as being a bit of an architectural curiosity and that is about all that stands out in my mind about that day. Well, that and the kids and I sitting in the car bored while my husband eagerly explored the grounds a bit further.

Since then I’ve learned more about the significance of this place and the people who worked there and do regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to savour the moment. But it really wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when we went to the cinema to see The Imitation Game that I learned the whole story, or well, perhaps the whole story of Hollywood’s version.

In The Imitation Game, conflict was created between characters where, apparently, it didn’t actually exist. I won’t go into great detail and spoil things if you haven’t seen the movie and would like to but basically, according to the articles that I will link to at the bottom of this post, the screenplay embellished some facts and left out some others presumably for the sake of entertainment.

This raises many questions in my mind:

  • Do writers have a responsibility to accurately depict historical events?
  • Is it acceptable to embellish and omit when it makes a true story more entertaining?
  • Is it more important to maintain the interest of an audience than to accurately portray every last details in a story?
  • Is it acceptable to embellish and omit minor points in a true story if that helps to keep your audience interested so that they can appreciate the main story, or in this case, the history lesson?

Much like the movie Titanic we know how it ends more or less, but the movie is very well done and I would encourage you to see it if you get the chance.

For More Information

How Accurate Is The Imitation Game?
An Alan Turing expert watches the “The Imitation Game” trailer
The Imitation Game: inventing a new slander to insult Alan Turing
Images of Bletchley Park, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Remembrance, 2014

We lived in England while the United Nations was actively involved in bombing raids during the Bosnian war. There were several American air force bases around our village, and one in particular regularly sent bombers flying overhead, so low that you could almost see the pilots’ faces as they flew over.

It was an uncomfortable feeling, not only because we knew where those planes were headed and what they would do when they reached their destination, but it was uncomfortable for us because we were from Canada, and although we had relatives who’d served in our armed forces during wars, we had never witnessed the machinery of war in action before. It felt very different actually witnessing even that much. It was closer to an active conflict than I’d ever wanted to be.

The experience made me look at the beautiful green countryside dotted with ancient thatched cottages differently, and I would try to envision what it must have looked like, all those years ago, to see not only allied planes departing, but to watch helplessly as Hilter’s fighters flew overhead.

The area where we lived was steeped in the history of the world wars. Our village, Thorpe Waterville, in Northamptonshire, was a stone’s throw from Lilford Hall. I passed it regularly. A magnificent building, it had been used as an American field hospital during WWII.

The village of Polebrook, a few miles away, had an airfield during the war. Clark Gable, the well known actor, had joined the American Air Force and was stationed in Polebrook. I was told that Jimmy Stewart who’d also enrolled in the Air Force, had frequented the nearby city of Peterborough during the war.

Glenn Miller, the famed band leader, boarded a plane at an air force base not too far from where we lived, enroute to Paris, France on December 15, 1944, never to seen again.

I mention Clark, and Jimmy, and Glenn, not because of the importance of their service above all others, but because they are names that you will recognize. We once visited a pub called The Vane Arms in the small village of Sudborough. It was filled with reminders of the service of nameless individuals. Pennies are wedged into a beam over its fireplace. The pennies were placed there by airmen before their missions. If they returned, they removed their pennies from the beam and purchased drinks with them. If they didn’t return, the pennies were bent over in remembrance and remain there to this day. You can see pictures here.

While we lived there, we were privy to many other sites and stories about England during the wars, sites and stories often unknown to North Americans, which helped us to gain a fresh perspective of something so old. We were able to experience what it would have been like to walk through a WWI trench, or sit in a bomb shelter during a WWII air raid at the The Imperial War Museum in London. And, I will never forget the sight of small graveyards in the middle of farmers’ fields visible from the roadways in France, or the humbling magnificence of the Menin Gates etched with thousands of names of the dead and missing British and Commonwealth soldiers from WWI. The Gates are found in Belgium in the town of Ypres, a town that was reduced to rubble because it was bombed so heavily during WWI that a man on horseback could see across the entire town.

I’d had uncles who’d served overseas, one joined the navy and drove boatloads of soldiers to the beaches on D Day, another was involved in the liberation of Holland. As a child, I’d heard their stories, rarely shared, and they were horrifying.

My uncles were still teenagers when they served. As a child, I couldn’t appreciate just how young they were, but now, as a mother of children in their 20’s, I understand now how young they were and how horrific it must have been for all concerned to send their children on their way to war, still so wet behind the ears not knowing much of life, without knowing if they would ever come back to join the family circle.

I think about these people and places, and the pennies, especially at this time of the year and I remember.

Photo courtesy of Evgeni Dinev |