There seems to be a standard British film set just before, during or just after the Second World War that is released each year without fail. Sometimes these films are sent straight to digital platforms, some enjoy a stint in cinemas and others are swiftly given a DVD only release. It’s difficult to tell the fate of Six Minutes to Midnight as it has a slightly unusual central plot, has an impressive cast list, has some beautiful shots of the English coastline, but there is something lacking from the entire film.
British agent Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard) takes a position as an English teacher at the exclusive Augusta-Victoria College, a finishing school for the Nazi elite’s daughters. Miller has been sent into the school to find out when and where the Nazi’s plan to extract the girls and send them back to Germany. With the threat of German spies closing in, Miller also has been tasked with finding a microfilm containing the list of British spies currently in Germany, finding it before it ends up in the wrong hands.
Being based loosely on a true story about the last school of its kind, it’s bizarre and fascinating to find out this school really did exist in Bexhill-on-sea. Though the school was in place to be a way of an alliance with England, there is of course some suspicion that there were ulterior motives behind this whole operation. But none of this intrigue is explored in the film. The focus is held on the girls being taken back to Germany and British agents trying to stop this from happening. Tension is heightened when a murder takes places and Miller is on the run and can’t deliver the much-needed code to sound the alarm. The threat of war, although looming over the entire film, feels very much pushed to the side as we watch Miller running about the countryside. There is a missed opportunity with the students, as we really don’t get to know any of them, despite one or two being given lines and an attempt at character development. It seems a shame to centre a story around the girls and yet not get to know them.
The impressive cast of talent is hard to ignore, with actors such as Jim Broadbent and Judi Dench appearing, you’d think there was a story to compliment them. The story falls short and the cast are left with what feels like a very much cut down script. Broadbent is barely seen, except driving a bus, James D’Arcy shows up near the end and Judi Dench seems to repeat the same lines over and over. Eddie Izzard does her best in the lead as Miller but its Carla Juri as the Nazi operative, Ilse, who makes the biggest impression being given the most to do throughout the film.
The overall plot may be threadbare, the talent involved seem wasted but the story however is interesting enough to watch to the end. Coming across as a typical period war drama, it can be excused as being a film you can enjoy on a Sunday afternoon with tea and a slice of Black Forest Cherry Torte and no particular other time.
Six Minutes to Midnight is released on 19th July.