Six Minutes To Midnight (2021) Review

Based on historical fact, SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, the latest Sky Original Movie, takes the very real existence of the Augusta Victoria College, in Bexhill-on-Sea, a boarding school which in the final days before the outbreak of World War II housed the daughters of high-ranking and influential Nazi families and uses it as the setting for a genteel tale of espionage and a diplomatic race against time.

Six Minutes To Midnight Review

When one of the teachers at the school mysteriously vanishes, six days later Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard) takes up the post of the school’s English teacher to find out what happened and – crucially – what else is occurring at the school in the run up to the widely anticipated conflict with Germany.

The film, Izzard’s first credit as co-screenwriter, represents something of a passion project for the comedian, who herself grew up in the town where this drama is set – and the real school existed between 1932 and 1939. Founded ostensibly to foster amicable relations between the two normally contentious European powers, it quickly became a conduit for introducing the children of high ranking Germans to the British aristocracy in the hopes of solidifying a network of connections and relationships.

It’s into this ‘Heilwarts’ that Miller finds himself sent to take up the post which some might consider Defence of the Dark Arts. The school is run by Ms Rocholl (Judi Dench), a dedicated but severe headmistress who dotes on the girls and sees nothing wrong with their eager and passionate patriotism. She’s not even above indulging in a few “Sieg Heils” herself, dismissing the sinister overtones of the gesture as innocent pride and a desire to ‘hail victory’.

SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT is rich in atmosphere and the production values and cinematography are first-rate, but there’s a hollowness to the film that lets down its polished aesthetics and period authenticity. The lacking isn’t to be found in the performances, to be sure, and Izzard is particularly impressive and Dench plays the headmistress with all the blinkered iron certainty of your average Brexit voter, caught up in the passion and ideological fervour only to realise too late what their credulous zealotry has given rise to. There’s a starker warning for the present, too, in contemplating just how insidious an idea of a school designed to corrupt and indoctrinate rather than educate its pupils can be and how easily it can happen even now.

Stylistically, SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT homages the likes of “The 39 Steps” but never really finds its rhythm to keep the creeping tension rising credibly. While the protagonists are well defined, it neglects to flesh out the antagonists or, for that matter, any of the girls of the school beyond some superficial details. We learn but a few of their names and even fewer of their personalities so by the time the film’s endgame plays out, there just aren’t enough characters to hang the more dramatic moments the film is aiming for and, as a result, it fails to stick the landing.

Score 6