There are plenty of stories that prove sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Six Minutes to Midnight, a subdued thriller set on the precipice of World War Two, is another tale to be added to that list.
It's 1939 in the seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea at a small all-girls school nestled into the rural landscape. The twist? The school's pupils are exclusively German and, in some cases, daughters and goddaughters of Nazi high command, and the school was absolutely real.
A teacher named Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard) arrives at the school and begins to see what's inevitably coming. When he tries to sound the alarm, though, he is believed to be the enemy.
Izzard, who also wrote the script with Andy Goddard and Celyn Jones, told Digital Spy that the hook of the film was the relationship between Britain and Nazi Germany. "That was the first thing that was shown to me – this black-and-white photo, grainy photo, and you've got the British flag and the Nazi flag right next to each other, which is… you know, you never see that! I just thought, 'Really? Is that real?'"
Yes, it is. Six Minutes to Midnight explores this fraught relationship, on the brink of fraying, with classic British stoicism. But this removal from the immediacy of danger (well, for the most part) allows the nuance of the relationships between the schoolgirls and Miller, as well as between the school's headmistress Miss Rochol (Judi Dench) and the other teacher Ilse Keller (Carla Juri, Blade Runner 2049).
By playing in the grey area between the black-and-white of good versus evil, Six Minutes to Midnight allows its story to unfurl without jingoistic drama or any idealistic chest-beating. In fact, the repugnant belief at the core of Nazism (antisemitism, duh) isn't introduced until two-thirds of the way in, and in a way that is insidious and deeply upsetting.
Six Minutes to Midnight is helped along by a renowned cast – the aforementioned Dame Judi Dench whose confused but reverent Miss Rocholl is a deeply empathetic figure. Marvel's James D'Arcy plays posh-smarmy with aplomb. And of course, there's Izzard.
In her first screenwriting project, Izzard lends an internal turmoil to the role of Miller – someone caught between needing to do what is right and also knowing that sometimes it's not quite as simple as all that. Anyone who follows Izzard's marathon-running will be pleased to report she does a lot of running in this, too.
Those who are after a more explosive World War Two thriller should look elsewhere. Six Minutes to Midnight is a far more British type of movie (and it's hard not to recall Izzard's own stand-up routine from Dress To Kill on the inherent difference between Hollywood and British drama) where all the tension is beneath the surface.
Though it is definitely in the 'subdued' camp of film, it is still thrilling and once you hit the third act, there is a real sense of fear and drama that unfolds with a bigger bang. (As Izzard might call it, a popcorn-guzzling moment.) Though it takes a little while to get going, you need to give it a solid 20 minutes for the tension to pull taught. Once it does, you'll be hooked.
The era is one explored again and again, but Izzard's film manages to subvert expectations for what a World War Two drama looks like. By honing in on such a focussed, audacious and unknown story, Six Minutes to Midnight is a totally fresh, entertaining and engaging ride.
So how do you watch Six Minutes to Midnight? It's available on Sky Cinema and if you're already a Sky customer but don't have the movie channels, you can sign up for Sky Cinema for £11 a month (discounted from the usual £19 per month as part of an 18-month contract). If you're not a Sky subscriber, you can sign up for NOW and get a seven-day free trial with the Sky Cinema Pass to watch Six Minutes to Midnight for free.
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