Six Minutes to Midnight (M) - 100 minutes
Who would have thought that on the cusp of WWII there was an English finishing school whose primary focus was teaching German students?
The school badge, which featured a Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner and a Swastika on the right, was what sparked the idea for the film.
Mind you, the institution was an experiment that didn’t last all that long.
While the school – Augusta Victoria College in the English seaside resort town of Bexhill-on-Sea – actually existed, the events depicted are made up to aid the narrative (incidentally, the film was shot in Wales).
First up, the school’s English teacher, Mr Wheatley (Nigel Lindsay), desperately searching for something hidden away, is spooked. His fate is sealed.
In his place, another (who also happens to play the piano), Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard), is appointed on a trial basis by the straight-shooting governess, Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench). She is wedded to looking after and getting the best out of her students.
There are 20 girls, who receive instruction in physical education, deportment and music, as well as English.
All happen to be the daughters and goddaughters of the Nazi high command, so naturally they congregate around a radio to listen to the Fuhrer’s exhortations.
The new teacher – like his predecessor – is actually a British spy, planted to pick up where Mr Wheatley left off.
He is tasked with uncovering the names of Nazi conspirators (English traitors).
Standing in his way is the girls’ German tutor, Ilse Keller (Carla Juri), who the governess proudly tells Miller was on the reserve team for the Berlin Olympics.
Unbeknown to Miss Rocholl, Ilsa is tasked with secreting the girls out of England and back to Germany before war is declared. Ilsa is leant upon to ensure nothing stands in her way of achieving that.
Six Minutes to Midnight is the work of screenwriters Celyn Jones (The Vanishing), Eddie Izzard and Andy Goodard, the latter of whom also directs.
Set up as a period spy thriller, I was intrigued ... at the start.
I thought the contention and sense of unease and foreboding were well established.
I looked forward to seeing more.
But not long after Six Minutes to Midnight lost its way.
It became too stage managed and preposterous to ring true.
Miller’s get away from a series of tough scrapes was an example of that.
I don’t just speak of the run and chases, but failures to literally pull the trigger in a timely manner.
Nor did I find the characterisation of the villain in the piece – Ilsa – all that convincing.
Judi Dench is always accomplished, as much by her expressions as by her delivery of lines, and so it is here ... to a point.
Her character’s naïveté and desire to be involved in the final showdown are more than a little questionable.
And then there is the part played by the local bus driver, Charlie (Jim Broadbent), who all but rides in on his white steed intent on lending a helping hand. Really? As if he would have been allowed to live through his “adventure”.
I also thought more could have been made of the girls. Only two had much of a part to play – one the self-appointee leader, Astrid (Maria Dragus), and the other the all-seeing outcast, Gretel (Tijan Marei).
I don’t doubt the filmmakers desire to create a compelling tale of espionage with a twist.
Unfortunately, credibility gaps – including a far-fetched narrative arc – put paid to that.
The best I can say is that Six Minutes to Midnight had unrealised and unfulfilled potential.
Rated M, it scores a 5 out of 10.