The school’s blazer badge had a British flag and a Nazi one next to it. I thought... ‘What is this?’
Eddie Izzard tells DANIELLE DE WOLFE how a dark chapter of her hometown’s history inspired thriller Six Minutes to Midnight
AN extraordinary tale combining an English all-girls finishing school and Nazism, you would be forgiven for thinking Six Minutes To Midnight’s premise was entirely fictitious.
Created by and starring awardwinning writer and comedian Eddie Izzard, in partnership with Man Hunt and Submergence actor Celyn Jones, the thriller’s factual underpinning is exactly the sort of material great spy thrillers are based on.
“The blazer badge kind of says it all,” remarks Eddie, 59, of the school’s distinctive logo.
“Now, a lot of people went to school and had uniforms; you’d have a blazer, maybe you’d have a badge on your blazer, it would have said the school.
“The school in question is the Augusta Victoria College for Girls. It’s in Bexhill-on-Sea, a seaside town on the south coast where I grew up.
“It has the British flag on it like you’d expect because it’s a school in Britain – it also had the Nazi flag right next to that.
“And I just thought, ‘seriously? what is this?”’
Eddie’s fascination surrounding this bizarre piece of her hometown’s history of grew. Described by the actor and comedian as a school for “German girls wanting to get to know members of the British aristocracy”, the college became a haven for Nazi sympathisers, one which saw the children and godchildren of many high-ranking Nazi officials, including Hitler’s second in command, attend classes.
“They were listening to Hitler’s speeches, we know that they were saluting – doing the Nazi salute to the radio after the speeches.
“Himmler’s goddaughter was at the school, von Ribbentrop was the German ambassador (whose official title was Foreign Minister), his daughter was at the school (and) was getting delivered to school in an armour-plated Mercedes with German guards in uniform guarding her.
“That was the truth of what happened between 1932 and 1939 and so I just thought, ‘let’s drop our story on top of that’.”
The school was shut down in 1939 upon the outbreak of the Second World War, and Six Minutes To Midnight takes these factual foundations and intertwines them with a fictional storyline of Eddie and Celyn’s making.
With Set Fire To The Stars director Andy Goddard at the helm, the film also stars Dame Judi Dench as school governess Miss Rocholl, Blade Runner 2049’s Carla Juri as fellow teacher Ilse Keller, alongside Bridget Jones actor Jim Broadbent and Dunkirk star James D’Arcy.
Eddie plays journeyman teacher Thomas Miller (the gender fluid performer, who recently announced her preferred pronouns are she/her, is not averse to taking on male roles).
Appointed by the school’s governess (Dame Judi) following the mysterious disappearance of teacher Mr Wheatley, Miller attempts to raise the alarm, only to find himself framed for murder.
“There’s always someone in some government that has a crazy plan
up their sleeve,” says Eddie of the storyline’s plausibility.
“They were trying to kill Castro with exploding cigars or poisoned cigars, or whatever they were doing.
“There’s always someone that’s coming up with a weird plan.”
Eddie feels the subject matter of the film is relevant to our troubled modern times.
“There are some of us in the world who look for connections and similarities amongst all human beings – as Shakespeare said, ‘if you cut us, do we not bleed?’ Everyone is the same, the same genetics.”
Then, Eddie adds, there are the individuals who point out “layers of differences until you have people saying ‘these people are very different.’
“Even at that time, (people) were
saying, ‘no, let’s not believe this stuff’ because also, you get conspiracy theories put into you.
“A number of people now are buying into conspiracy theories which are based on rubbish, out and out lies,” Eddie continues.
“That’s what the Nazis did back then. The Jewish people, let’s blame them for everything. Why? Just because you can. Let’s blame the Muslims this time. Let’s blame the Methodists, blame the farmers.”
It is a perpetual cycle of false information and blame that currently extends to the world of politics, according to Eddie.
“When people use lies as a tool of politics, then humanity starts to die; that happened 90 years ago,” she states matter-of-factly.
“We’re seeing President (Joe) Biden has come in, so you hope things are going forward, but (Donald) Trump is saying he’s still around.
“It’s a bad time. The simplistic politicians of the world are just wanting to get ahead by chancing and lying their way forward, so, there but for the grace of God go all of us.”
It is this landscape the comedian hopes to make change.
Swapping the world of stand-up comedy for the often equally comical world of politics, Eddie’s sights are set on a parliamentary seat come the next election.
“I’m a radical and a moderate and I do radical things with a moderate message,” she says.
“I think a lot of moderates don’t go into politics because it looks too... too... I was going to say evil, but it looks too, you know, twisted and jaded and weird.
“So, a lot of moderate people will say, ‘well, stuff that, I’m just going to live my life and I won’t do that’, but I’m going to go in.
“I don’t want us to go back to the 1930s. I’m trying to encourage us to go forward to the 2030s. And hopefully the film resonates against us going backwards.”
When people use lies as a tool of politics, then humanity starts to die...