UK, Aug. 15, 1939: 17 days before WWII, an English teacher and his camera disappear on a coastal boarding school with 20 German teen girls. Miller gets the job 6 days later, secretly trying to find out what happened.
Summer 1939. Influential families in Nazi Germany have sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town to learn the language and be ambassadors for a future looking National Socialist. A teacher there sees what is coming and is trying to raise the alarm. But the authorities believe he is the problem.Written by
The names on the Anglo-German Fellowship document are as follows: Eckhard Schafer, Jurgen Fischer, Kurt Weber, Heinrich Krause, Hans Fuchs, Werner Schmidt, Helmut Baumann, Frau Sofia Mayer, George Johnson, Lady Gillian Syth, Edward Chapman, Harold Cole, Mrs. Norah Briscoe, Raymond Davis Hughes, Dr. Arthur Owens, and Duncan Scot*. (*The final letter(s) of Duncan's name were cut off in frame.) See more »
The Junkers Ju-52 transport aircraft has markings introduced in 1940 after the Battle for Poland. This is set months earlier. See more »
What bring you here Mr. Miller? What sort of English man would accept a position teaching Herr Hitler's league of German girls?
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I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside
Written by John Glover Kind (as John A. Glover-Kind)
Performed by Gwaun Cae Gurwen Band See more »
A "39-steps-esque" thriller that doesn't quite deliver on its potential
In "Six Minutes to Midnight", it's the summer of 1939 (so we are in a parallel time-flow here with the events of "The Dig"). A private girl's school - the Augusta Victoria College in Bexhill-on-Sea - is run with loving care by the spinster Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench). But the 'finishing school' is unusual, in that all its teenage students are German. Indeed, they are the offspring of prominent Nazis.
When half-German English teacher Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard) applies for a suddenly vacant position, he is taken on to share the teaching duties with Rocholl and Ilse (Carla Juri). But in snooping into the activities going on there, he finds mystery and danger.
This is a fascinating premise for a movie that will appeal to an older generation, along the lines of "They don't make them like this anymore". It has elements of the 'good guy on the run' that struck parallels with "The 39 Steps" for me.
It's great that the school is all based on historical fact. Miss Rochol did indeed run the school, as a part of a plan to infiltrate British high-society with pro-Nazi sympathies ahead of an invasion. In real-life, one of the pupils was the god-daughter of Heinrich Himmler and one - Bettina von Ribbentrop - was the daughter of the German foreign minister.
After a comic "Family Guy"-style set of production logos to kick off with (for a full one and a half minutes!!), the pre-title sequence is a superb scene-setter. What exactly is going on here? A frantic scrabbling in a bookcase. A pier-end disappearance. The school badge (a genuine reproduction!) with its Union flag and Nazi Swastika insignia. The girls performing a ballet-like ritual on the beach with batons. (This looks to be a cracker, I thought).
Judi Dench. Superb as always.
Chris Seager does the cinematography, and impressively so. Most of Seager's CV has been TV work, so it must be delightful to be given the breadth of a cinema screen to capture landscapes like this.
I like the clever title: "Six Minutes to Midnight". I assumed it was intended solely to reflect the imminence of war. But it actually has another meaning entirely.
For me, was a highly frustrating film. All of the great credibility and atmosphere it builds up in the first 30 minutes, it then squanders by diving off into sub-Hitchcock spy capers.
Izzard becomes a 'man on the run', and doesn't seem credible at that. (I appreciate the irony of this statement given that this is the man who ran 32 marathons in 31 days for charity!) But Izzard is built for distance and not for speed, and some of the police chase scenes in the movie strain credibility to breaking point. Another actor might have been able to pull this off better.
There's a lack of continuity in the film: was it perhaps cut down from a much longer running time? At one point, Miller is a wanted murderer with his face plastered on the front pages. The next, kindly bus driver Charlie (Jim Broadbent) is unaccountably aiding him and Rochol seems to have assumed his innocence in later scenes.
Various spy caper clichés are mined to extreme - including those old classics 'swerve to avoid bullets'; 'gun shot but different gun'; and 'shot guy seems to live forever'. And there are double-agent 'twists' occurring that are utterly predictable.
A very specific continuity irritation for me was in an 'aircraft landing' scene. Markers are separated by nine paces (I went back and counted them!) yet a view from a plane shows them a 'runway-width' apart. This might have escaped scrutiny were it shown just once. But no... we have ground shot; air shot; ground shot; air shot..... repeatedly!
This was one of the cinema trailers that most appealed to me over a year ago, in those heady days in the sunlit-uplands of life before Covid-19. It's a movie that showed a great deal of promise, since the history is fascinating. And there is probably a really great TV serial in here: showing the 'alternate history' consequences of these high-society German girls penetrating British society and steering the war in a different direction (screenplay idea (C) RJ Mann!) But the potential is squandered with a non-credible spy caper bolted onto the side.
So with "Six Minutes to Midnight", Downton-director Andy Goddard has made a perfectly watchable 'rainy Sunday afternoon' film, that I enjoyed in part for its 'old-school' quirkiness. But it's frustrating that all the promise couldn't be transitioned into a more satisfying movie.
(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies on the web or Facebook. Thanks).
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