By Lynn Venhaus
Based on true events, “Six Minutes to Midnight” is a period spy yarn that sounds more exciting than it is.
On Aug. 15, 1939, seventeen days before World War II, an English language teacher disappears from the coastal boarding school, Augusta-Victoria College, where he worked. The 20 pupils are all daughters of Nazi VIPs and tension is high.
The headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) hastily hires a replacement, Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard), who is an undercover British agent trying to find out what happened. But he becomes compromised and is wrongly accused of murder, trying to stay out of jail and not attract enemy attention while the PE teacher Ilse Keller (Carla Juri) is a Nazi sympathizer. Tension skyrockets and everybody is in danger.
A very thin story, co-written by the film’s star Izzard, director Andy Goddard and Celyn Jones, isn’t helped by erratic pacing and dull execution.
The characters are poorly developed, and Oscar winners Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent, as the Bexhill-on-Sea bus driver, are not given much to do, which is a shame.
The August-Victoria College really took in German teenage girls from 1932 to 1939 on the southern coast of England. Izzard grew up in the area, so he has an interest in sharing this little-known tale.
The period production design by Candida Otton and the seaside cinematography by Chris Seager are both first-rate, with an appropriate mix of danger levels in the music score by Marc Streitenfeld.
Izzard, a comic genius whose one-woman shows have earned much acclaim and awards over the years, is a capable actor. He was the best thing about “The High Note,” in a small role as a global rock superstar. But a gentleman spy, who plays the piano, might be a tad far-fetched.
The local lawmen are part granite, part camp — although James D’Arcy as Captain Drey and Kevin Eldon as Sergeant Simmons seem to enjoy stretching their stereotypical roles.
While the intrigue gains momentum in the second half, ratcheting up the tension because no one can be trusted, it still is a choppy mess. At 99 minutes, the film feels as if portions are missing that could have illuminated the story better.
Given what they had to work with, the result shouldn’t have been so stodgy.
“Six Minutes to Midnight” is a drama, thriller directed by Andy Goddard and co-written by Goddard, Eddie Izzard and Celyn Jones, based on a true event. It stars Izzard, Judi Dench, Carla Juri, James D’Arcy and Jim Broadbent. The 2020 film, which runs 1 hour, 39 minutes, is rated PG-13 for some violence. Lynn’s Grade: C+. It is in theaters and video on demand March 26.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.