REVIEW

Six Minutes to Midnight stars Eddie Izzard in a Nazi spy story

Six Minutes To Midnight, M, 100 minutes, 3 stars

Eddie Izzard, centre, in Six Minutes to Midnight. Picture: Transmission

Eddie Izzard, centre, in Six Minutes to Midnight. Picture: Transmission

British comedian and performer Eddie Izzard grew up down the road from a building with a fascinating past, the Victoria-Imperial College in the British seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea, and was always fascinated by its story. It was an enclave for the best and brightest young women who would support Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

The college was an exercise in cultural diplomacy between Germany and England, and lasted a handful of years in the late 1930s before the war made it an unpalatable embarrassment. It took young women from well-to-do German families and there they learned English among their other finishing school lessons, training to be good ambassadors for the National Socialists in a country that was, up to that point, quite diplomatically close to Britain.

Izzard put pen to paper and turned that fascination into a welcome addition to the spy genre, directed by Andy Goddard with a tone that nods to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agentor John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps.

I do love a good war-time thriller and I enjoyed Six Minutes to Midnight, even if the stakes in the end were somewhat lower than the premise sets up.

In the days leading up to the declaration of war, a British school teacher from the Victoria-Imperial College and his camera go missing.

Determined to investigate what happened to this teacher of so many daughters of the Nazi leadership, Thomas Miller (Eddie Izzard) gets himself a position at the school as replacement English Master.

He is given a grilling at his interview by the school's headmistress, Miss Rocholl (Judi Dench) but finds support in her reserved colleague Miss Ilse (Carla Juri).

Miss Rocholl is a firm believer in the Nazi ideology, but more importantly takes seriously her duty to keep the young women in her charge safe in a world that is becoming increasingly unwelcoming to all things German.

Miller, meanwhile, begins to profile the staff and students and unpack what plot might be behind the original English teacher's disappearance.

Fellow teacher Ilse is mysterious, there's a terrifying student, Astrid (Maria Dragus), there's Miss Rocholl's insistence that the Nazi "Sieg Heil" is a well-intentioned salute.

But in a case of mistaken identity, Miller finds himself the unfortunate suspect in murder and on the run from the police, including the laconic Captain Drey (James D'Arcy), who will not believe that he is working for the government.

Izzard has constructed a "what if" scenario about the school that so fascinated her, penned the screenplay and wrote herself a fascinating role.

Note that pronoun - Izzard came out as genderfluid a few years back and now prefers female pronouns.

But befitting the story, she plays the male spy. He, the character, feels very familiar, like the put-upon bloke who stumbles into unwanted trouble in every Hitchcock film.

I do love a good war-time thriller and I enjoyed Six Minutes to Midnight, even if the stakes in the end were somewhat lower than the premise sets up.

This story Izzard's take on Nazi spy thriller first appeared on The Canberra Times.