“Six Minutes To Midnight” refers to the doomsday clock. Where an image of a clockface represents the time remaining before the onset of a global catastrophe in terms of a number of minutes before midnight. It is also the title to the new spy thriller written, produced and starring comedian and actor Eddie Izzard in her first film screenplay. (Izzard disclosed in December that she is transgender and uses she/her pronouns).
The subject of “Six Minutes To Midnight” has a special meaning for Izzard as her family is from Bexhill-on-Sea and she spent a great deal of time there as a child. Inspired by a real-life coastal boarding school in Bexhill-on-Sea. The Augusta Victoria College was a real school in operation from 1932 to 1939; the badges on the girls’ uniforms that were reproduced for the movie, featured a lion rampant flanked by both a Union Jack and a swastika. The idea for “Six Minutes to Midnight” emerged from Izzard’s fascination with the school.
Serving as co-writers with Izzard is actress Celyn Jones (who also stars in the movie) and its director Andy Goddard, who is best known for directing two hit British series, “Dr. Who” and “Downton Abbey”. Izzard herself takes the lead role in an outstanding ensemble that includes Judi Dench, James D’Arcy, Carla Juri, Celyn Jones and Jim Broadbent.
“Six Minutes To Midnight” takes place in August of 1939, as England is on the brink of a war whose scope it can’t yet imagine. Izzard plays a teacher named Thomas Miller, who takes a job at the Augusta Victoria College. The attendees are all young German daughters, nieces or goddaughters of Nazi officials. But they’re also just teenage girls and the school’s headmistress, Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) has a great deal invested in giving them a proper English education, as well as keeping them safe.
Yet the school is in turmoil. The school’s former English teacher has mysteriously disappeared; which is why Miller is there posing as a teacher to investigate the teachers disappearance. But Miller soon enough finds himself a murder suspect, on the run from the police and embroiled in an espionage scheme.
“Six Minutes To Midnight” was previously scheduled to be released in May 2020, by studio Lionsgate and was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. IFC Films picked up the rights and distributed the film in the United States, where it’s currently available to rent or purchase on all streaming services. For a while, “Six Minutes to Midnight” feels to be an austere historical drama of a World War II era “Dead Poets Society”. But once Izzard’s character, Thomas Miller goes on the run. Goddard uses his set pieces well creating an old fashioned thriller, full of double crosses and narrow escapes akin to a Hitchcock on the run thriller.
The script keeps the film smoothly humming along as Izzard’s Miller gets in and out of one scrape after another. The writing has some interesting things to say about having passion for your nation, but uses the ultimate central “McGuffin” (an object that everyone is after, or trying to protect) is a predictable one that is used in virtually every spy movie of the past few years. However characterization is the scripts big problem that makes you wish there was more development to the girls at the school. While the film does focus on key players, it could have used a scene or two to establish the relationships better among the girls within the school.
Izzard plays the lead role herself and she’s the best thing about the film, bringing a warmth and intensity to her performance. Izzard is obviously great at comedy, but has also proved to be a more than capable dramatic actor in films like “Victoria & Abdul” and even “Valkyrie”. Her role in “Six Minutes To Midnight” is on a whole other level playing a fugitive on the run (Izzard goes Tom Cruise and does a lot of running) trying to clear her name.
“Six Minutes to Midnight” melds together the intensity of a Hitchcockian thriller and the heart of “Dead Poets Society”. It may not feel incredibly fresh, but Izzard and Goddard take what could have been a slog of a biopic and craft something more intimately suspenseful that keeps you compelled throughout. The script keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing who to trust, or what may be around the corner.
It’s a good old fashioned spy thriller that wears its influences proudly on its sleeves. Comparisons will clearly be made with Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps”, “North by Northwest” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. Izzard and director Andy Goddard offers us a hugely entertaining historical spy thriller with solid performances and a glimpse into an unsettling bit of British history.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)