Six Minutes to Midnight

 

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An unexpected insight into Bexhill-on-Sea in 1939.

 
Six Minutes to Midnight

Eddie Izzard with Judi Dench

 

It is beyond doubt that Six Minutes to Midnight should be thought of as being Eddie Izzard's project. This film finds him writing for the screen for the first time and he shares the credit for both story and screenplay in addition to which he takes the leading role. But the key point leading to its concept is probably that Izzard regards Bexhill-on-Sea as his home town. That connection explains why he should have been aware of the existence there in the 1930s of a finishing school for girls, one that catered for the daughters of well-off German families. This establishment, the Augusta Victoria College, had connections with the Anglo-German Fellowship which like the college inevitably came to an end in 1939. Izzard clearly felt that a tale built around the days just before the Second World War and centred on this institution would make a good subject for a film. Its novelty value is undoubted but, judging by what is on the screen, the belief that it would yield an effective movie was a misjudgment.

 

For those who see Eddie Izzard as a cutting-edge figure in today's gender politics, the fact that he should choose a period tale for his screen writing debut may disappoint. But that was his choice and there's nothing inherently wrong in making a film that appeals first and foremost to an elderly audience. What is sad about it is that this particular example should prove to be such an inferior example of this genre. I had heard hints that it fell short before viewing the piece but when I started to watch it I thought at first that it might be possible to defend the movie. Andy Goddard directs it competently, the production values are sound and Judi Dench playing the school's governess, Miss Rochell, is effective even if the role is far from being one of her most rewarding. The story soon gets under way with the arrival at the school of a new journeyman teacher, Thomas Miller (Izzard's role), who is shown to be there as an undercover agent on an intelligence mission. It's a situation in which the drama is not exactly intense but, if one treats Six Minutes to Midnight as an off-beat period tale rather than any kind of thriller, it seems in its early stages to hold the promise of being something to appeal to the right audience.

 

However, we are not that far into the story before the problem with the film becomes clear. The real-life situation of the school's existence does not readily offer sufficient drama to sustain a feature film. Consequently, Izzard and his collaborators have felt compelled to concoct an adventure story to impose on the reality. The tale that they supply carries strong echoes of John Buchan's classic The 39 Steps even to the extent of setting up an episodic drama in which Miller, suspected of a murder he did not commit, goes on the run. This is a step that invites comparisons with film versions of Buchan's book including Hitchcock's, but that only serves to underline the plot contrivances and loopholes to be found here and to bring home how inferior this is to the movies it recalls.

 

The absurdly long drawn out climax is particularly feeble, but the film has floundered long before that. The way in which characters appear out of the blue at key moments to keep the drama going illustrate that. In addition, there are plenty of ridiculous incidents. One is the way in which a coach driver (Jim Broadbent in a cameo) offers unlikely assistance to Miller despite being assured by the local paper that he is a killer. But even more startling is Miller's failure once suspected of murder not to disclose his professional standing to the police (of course had he done so he might well have been able to clear his name but he would have crucially undermined the development of the plot). Some early pleasures are to be found here but the longer the film goes on the more inept it becomes. Given that the failure to build any sense of authenticity is at the heart of this, it becomes all too apt that the end credits should reveal that this Sussex tale was filmed in Wales.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Eddie Izzard, Carla Juri, James D'Arcy, Celyn Jones, David Schofield, Jim Broadbent, Judi Dench, Maria Dragus, Tijan Marei, Kevin Eldon, Nigel Lindsay, Franziska Brandmeier, Joe Bone.

 

Dir Andy Goddard, Pro Andy Evans, Sean Marley, Ade Shannon, Sarah Townsend and Laure Vaysse, Screenplay Eddie Izzard, Celyn Jones and Andy Goddard, from a story by Eddie Izzard and Celyn Jones, Ph Chris Seager, Pro Des Candida Otton, Ed Mike Jones and John Gilbert, Music Marc Streitenfeld, Costumes Lucinda Wright.

 

Mad As Birds/West Madison Entertainment-Lionsgate.
99 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 26 March 2021. Available on Sky Cinema. Cert. 12A.