Six Minutes To Midnight

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Six Minutes To Midnight
"Six Minutes To Midnight is a labour of love and it shows us how innocence can be lost."

With a nod to Robert Donat’s Richard Hannay in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and an unintended wink to a bus trip in Torn Curtain with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, Andy Goddard’s Six Minutes To Midnight (co-written with Eddie Izzard and Celyn Jones) conjures up moments from cinema history. Leontine Sagan’s Mädchen in Uniform from 1931 may come to mind and when the German girls at the Augusta-Victoria College are singing in the staircase, The Sound Of Music is in the air.

The tautly wound historical thriller stars Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench with Carla Juri (of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and Frauke Finsterwalder’s Finsterworld), Jim Broadbent, Celyn Jones, Maria Dragus (of Michael Haneke’s White Ribbon and Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation), James D’Arcy, David Schofield, and Tijan Marei. Shot crisply by Chris Seager (Goddard’s Set Fire To The Stars, starring Celyn Jones as Dylan Thomas) with impeccable costumes by Lucinda Wright, Six Minutes To Midnight is set ominously at a finishing school in an English seaside town during the summer of 1939, where high-ranking German officials had sent their daughters to learn English.

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Meanwhile, Europe prepares for the war that is only weeks in the future. This very precise moment in time is what gives the film its plaintive quality, the fact that we never know when what we consider quotidian and take for granted, will forever become a thing of the past.

The plot is unique and the title elegantly explains itself, while Thomas Miller (Izzard) embarks on his mission. From teacher to spy is only a short step and waking up sleeping giants of old can spill helpful landscape clues. Miss Rocholl (Dench), headmistress of the Augusta-Victoria College, Bexhill-on-Sea, and her aide, the former Olympian swimmer Ilse Keller (Juri) provide lessons to the group of girls from Germany, who are in England to improve themselves through physical exercise and exposure to the language.

The schoolgirls are terrific. They sing in English and German, improve their posture by balancing books on their heads, go on a field trip to a nearby castle, swim in the ocean and practice pronunciation and grammar, without knowing that they will shortly be thrown into the mouth of history.

Carla Juri’s wonderfully nuanced performance draws us close to Ilse Keller and, in the next scene, repels us. Judi Dench plays confused-because-the-truth-is-too-painful unlike any other, and Jim Broadbent being cast as the bus driver gives away that we will get to hear more from his Charlie as the film progresses. Six Minutes To Midnight is a labour of love and it shows us how innocence can be lost.

It is Eddie Izzard, though, who strides through the movie’s oscillating moods with the greatest confidence that one person contains multitudes. Her Thomas Miller is educator and agent, clown and saviour all at once. It is the patchwork quality that works; combining the contributions of the three screenwriters did not spoil the brew in this case. Any attempt to make the plot slicker would have ruined the complicated sentiments hard at work here in this story of learning and human bonding and how hatred can destroy all of it.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2021
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Six Minutes To Midnight packshot
Trouble brews for a teacher who has taken a last minute and controversial role teaching English to the daughters of high-ranking Nazis.

Director: Andy Goddard

Writer: Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones, Andy Goddard

Starring: Eddie Izzard, Judi Dench, James D'Arcy, Jim Broadbent, David Schofield, Carla Juri, Kevin Eldon, Nigel Lindsay, Rupert Holliday-Evans, Bianca Nawrath, Maria Dragus, Celyn Jones, Tijan Marei, Franziska Brandmeier, Joe Bone

Year: 2020

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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