Wartime spy tale solid, but unspectacular
‘WSix Minutes to Midnight (M, 99 mins) Directed by Andy Goddard Reviewed by James Croot ★★★
hat brings you here Mr Miller? What sort of Englishman would accept a position teaching Herr Hitler’s league of German girls?’’
Desperate to ensure his motivations are pure, AugustaVictoria College’s headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) is giving her prospective new English teacher a grilling. After all, Britain seems just days away from a seemingly inevitable warwith Germany.
‘‘Mein vater war Deutscher,’’ comes the unexpected reply. Although still somewhat wary, Rocholl agrees to hire him. After all, applicants haven’t exactly been beating down her door in the current climate. ‘‘I wouldn’t normally hire such a journeyman, but your predecessor proved somewhat unreliable,’’ she says, deliberately failing to reveal the somewhat strange circumstances surrounding his disappearance.
Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard) though, throws himself into his role with gusto, more than happy to start sing-a-longs and take the girls for their daily dip in the sea. Even his predecessor’s bodywashing up on the beach doesn’t seem to faze him.
However, as war inches closer, he notices a perceptible difference in the behaviour of the school’s German and PE teacher Ilse Keller (Carla Juri).
The curriculum appears to take a troubling turn – less finishing school and more indoctrinating them with the Third Reich’s reasoning for finishing off ‘‘nonAryans’’. Miller knows he needs to act, but how best to alert the authorities without tipping his hand to Keller? And is it already too late?
Inspired by a real-life coastal boarding school in Bexhill-on-sea, Sixminutes to Midnight is a solid, but unspectacular period thriller.
What starts out as a nuanced and interesting tale of an institution tolerated, but increasingly unwanted by the locals (as tensions between the two countries rise), eventually becomes a predictable race-against-the-clock punctuated by acts of doublecrossing and derring-do.
Best known for his TV work on Torchwood and Downton Abbey, director Andy Goodard does a nice job of establishing a sense of space and place and making us feel the isolating nature of the girls’ situation.
But try as he and co-writers Celyn Jones ( The Vanishing) and Izzard might, they can’t quite sell the spy elements of the story. Whether that’s down to Izzard’s underwritten character, or the rush to get to the thrills, I’m still not entirely sure, but I was left feeling somewhat less-thancompelled bywhat should have been an engrossing last half-hour.
Likewise, while the script has some interesting things to say about passion for your nation and not criticising a country for trying to be great (something especially relevant in light of recent global politics), the ultimate central ‘‘Mcguffin’’ (the object everyone is after, or trying to protect) is a ploddingly predictable one used in virtually every spy movie of the past few years.
As for the impressive sounding cast, they’re either under-utilised, or not quite fit for purpose. Dench is a fairly peripheral figure, Jim Broadbent has a tiny cameo, while Agent Carter’s James D’arcy never truly convinces.
As for Izzard, while clearly a labour of love for her* (she grew up in the area), it’s only sporadically that she really shines, delivering a broad performance that feels slightly at odds with everyone else’s. Izzard has proved to be a more than capable dramatic actor in films like Victoria& Abdul and even Valkyrie, but here she strangely struggles to find the right tone – something that ends up slightly blighting and pervading the entire film.
*Eddie Izzard’s stated preferred pronouns are ‘‘she’’ and ‘‘her’’. After previews in select cinemas this weekend, Sixminutes tomidnight will screen nationwide from Thursday.