“Six Minutes to Midnight” is the sort of high gloss “programmer” Hollywood and Pinewood (and Shepperton, etc.) used to turn out by the dozens.
The plot has Nazis, spies, action and preposterous coincidences and improbabilities, a “talks too much” villain, cheap thrills and sentimental sop. But thanks to a game cast and a clever and historically-accurate hook, it’s poppycock that plays.
Eddie Izzard co-wrote and stars in this story of murderous intrigues at Victoria Augusta College in Bexhill-on-Sea, a finishing school for the daughters of the German elite. We meet them as they march, exercise and sing like the good little Nazis they are. For fun, they like nothing better than listening to Der Furher on der wireless.
Miss Rocholl (Oscar-winner Judi Dench), their English governess, dotes on her charges and teaches poise, manners and comportment while almost-an-Olympian Ilse (Carla Juri) ensures they’re properly exercised.
But they have a problem keeping English teachers. We meet the first as he comes to an unfortunate end. He was onto something at the school.
It’s August of 1939, the world is teetering toward war and the English are enjoying the last days of peace and summer at the beach. But Mr. Miller (Izzard) needs a job, and “journeyman teacher” or not, Miss Rocholl needs that post filled. He’s hired.
He, like his predecessor, is a spy. And these girls? “
“Every chess game has its pawns.”
If they’re smuggled out, it means war is imminent. If the Brits seize them first, “we could start the whole bloody thing ourselves.”
Can Mr. Miller, who shocks the little Eva Brauns when he answers their German insults in German, find out what’s going on? Will he meet the same fate as his predecessor, and at whose hand?
What we have here is a bit of history with a couple of classic films mashed up around it. This is “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” grafted onto “Eye of the Needle.” Nazi plots and intrigues swirl around the indoctrinated students.
“We shouldn’t apologize for passion,” Miss Rochell rationalizes, “or a country that strives to be great.” But despite such Furher-apologia, not all of the students are obedient mistresses of the Master Race.
Izzard makes a plucky hero, an Everyman a bit long in the tooth for derring-do. But it helps to think of the comic-turned-actor as the obsessive marathoner (for charity) that he’s become in each of Miller’s many far-fetched escapes.
A second Oscar winner, Jim Broadbent, shows up as a local bus driver who cracks “Auf wiedersehen” to anybody getting getting off at “that school,” and James D’Arcy (“Dunkirk”) plays a cop a little too fond of saying “Old boy.”
“I don’t like your tone!”
“Quite all right. I get that a lot.“
It’s a trifle silly. But you don’t have to take “Six Minutes to Midnight” seriously to lose yourself in the pleasure of some very fine actors having a go at an old fashioned B-movie, poppycock included.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for some violence
Cast: Eddie Izzard, Carla Juri, Tijan Marei, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent and Judi Dench
Credits: Directed by Andy Goddard, script by Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones and Andy Goddard. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:40