Spies and teachers mixed in together by Richard Jones

A look at Six Minutes To Midnight (M)

Until we saw this movie I had no idea that an English finishing school for the daughters of high-ranking German Nazi officials existed in southern England in the late 1930s. Well, it did, in the coastal town of Bexhill-on-Sea in east Sussex.

In Eddie Izzard’s movie, made more poignant for the fact that he grew up in Bexhill, he’s a teacher named Thomas Miller who signs on at the school. In his appointment interview with headmistress Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) Miller mentions that he’s part-German: his father is German and his mother English. It’s late August 1939 and as we know now the start date of World War 2 is just around the corner.

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What happened to Miller’s teaching predecessor sets the tone for the upcoming spy background story. His body is found washed up on the beach and Miller, as the town’s newcomer, is the prime suspect. So that sets the tone for one of the under-current narratives of this movie. And it sets the scene for the start of a lot of running scenes – the slain teacher in his last moments, tearing down the town’s pier, Miller pacing it out flat out down the beach with the coppers in pursuit and later, Miller’s frantic dashes across lush English fields. Handcuffed in one chase, unfettered in others.

We find out why Miller’s at the school early on. He’s sitting in a car with a high-ranking British Secret Service agent. Rain’s pouring down outside. Suddenly three shots ring out. The British colonel has been shot through the windscreen. And a discarded Luger pistol is shown in close-up on the pavement.

Miller manages to continue on with his teaching duties although head girl Astrid (Maria Dragus) dismisses him. “The Fuhrer would say he isn’t man enough,” she whispers to a classmate in German. She’s shocked to hear that Miller is as fluent in her native tongue as she is. But he doesn’t have a swastika stitched onto his shirt with a Union Jack above as the girls have on their vests.

Also to be considered is games and physical eduction teacher Ilse (Carla Juri). She’s preparing the girls not just in physical exercises at the school courts and on the beach but also, we discover, for a later cross-country hike to flat country where they’re to be picked up by a Luftwaffe aircraft.

Before the hike, though, Captain Dray (James D’Arcy)enters the story. Is he a detective or a MI5 agent ?

He’s hot on Miller’s trail believing he’s compromising London’s plans and may have had something to do with the Colonel’s death.

Fortunately for the English teacher he has local bus driver Charlie (Jim Broadbent) on his side.

Charlie manages to drive Miller to a safer refuge and unshackle Miller after he’d been handcuffed by Dray. But then follows another of the running scenes — this time across beautiful southern English fields. And the girls are still marching across the countryside, ready to light flares to guide in the German aircraft.

I was the only one of our little group who thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Partly, perhaps, because I love movies set in when, or just before, World War 2 gets underway. I was reminded when reviews were studied once we got home that many critics had only given it just two, or two-and-a-half, stars out of five. Nonetheless I didn’t give ground. I’m a Dench and Broadbent fan so any movies they star in I’m hooked.

In the final wash-up I’d give it three stars.

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