In the summer of 1939, there was a school called the Augusta-Victoria College for Girls, Bexhill-on-Sea, on the southern coast of England. It opened in 1932 and was the ‘first and the last of its kind in Britain.’ For good reason.
Based on actual events, this film captures for us a moment in time when, for all intense and purposes, the decision to close this type of school was made and, more importantly, why. When the Germans invaded Poland, World War II beings, the end for the elite starts with closing this type of establishment.
While watching, you’re not thinking of this as a movie about a finishing school, but that is what it turns out to be. As it’s said in the film, ‘England can be an unforgiving place if you happen to be German.’ One would imagine so at this point in history. This being the case, powerful families of the Nazi High Command feared for their children. They could be used as pawns on a chessboard if captured, so if they had young daughters and goddaughters, they sent them to Augusta-Victoria to learn English and be proper women. According to this, it does not go very well.
The opening is impressive and compelling. It did exactly what I had hoped by capturing my interest. It was thought-provoking! We see a teacher named Mr. Wheatley (Nigel Lindsay) open a secret box, only to discover that something’s missing. He knows instantly that the mission he was on has been compromised, and he’s in danger. He leaves the school right away to alert headquarters that the German’s are aware they’re being watched and that everyone’s in danger, but he isn’t quick enough. A short while later, his hat is all that remains.
We then meet the girl’s next teacher, Mr. Thomas Miller, played by Eddie Izzard, who was also the screenplay’s co-writer. Miller’s hired by the school’s guardian, or headmistress, Miss Rocholl, played by Judi Dench, who also played ‘M’ in several Bond films. She asks him, ‘What bring you here, Mr. Miller? What sort of English man would accept a position teaching Herr Hitler’s League of German girls?’ He tells her that his father is German. She isn’t too keen on that, but in need of a good teacher, she decides to put him on for a trial basis. Maybe he has a helpful angle on the Anglo-German fellowship she’s trying to create.
The students aren’t very fond of him, save for Gretal (Tijan Marei), the outcast. In fact, upset that there’s a new teacher when she’s used to the old one, Astrid (Maria Dragus) is downright nasty. Never once thinking he could speak German, Astrid whispers to a classmate that the Führer would say Mr. Miller wasn’t man enough. He hears this, turns sharply, and asks her, in her native tongue, ‘The Führer would say what?!’ The entire class is stunned, but he has now earned some respect amongst the girls.
Miss Rocholl witnesses the girls sitting with their teacher, Ilse Keller (Carla Juri), listening to Hitler’s speech. They smile as if he is speaking to them personally. Miss Rocholl doesn’t seem pleased about it, but she cares about her students. She knows where they hail from and knows who they are, what the young women will ultimately be led to believe. She hopes their time at the school will give them insights into the real world that will keep them tethered to something other than evil.
Thomas goes to a black-tie event with Ilse. It’s at this point that the spy thriller takes off. The reason for the title is revealed, and we finally see some action, even a chase scene. Not a very good one, but it’ll wake you up if you’ve nodded off.
What I’m saying is that so far, the film has been relatively slow. It has some setup as to who the girls are, but it needed more. Perhaps if one of the girls had a relation to a particular person, that could have been focused on and would have given a broader reason for the audience to watch. I kept waiting for that moment, but it never came. I will say that the film is okay. Sadly, the acting is terribly uninspiring, to say the least; no one stands out here, but what I found most appealing was it centering around this school. I found that to be a fascinating subject. I can’t help but think of what this could have been.
Six Minutes to Midnight
Director: Andy Goddard
Writers: Eddie Izzard, Andy Goddard, Celyn Jones
Stars: Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent, Carla Juri
Running Time: 1h 39m
Genres: Drama, Thriller
Producers: Andy Evans, Sean Marley, Ade Shannon, Laure Vaysse, Sarah Townsend
Production companies: Mad as Birds, Motion Picture Capital, Ella Communications, Lionsgate U.K., Film Cymru Wales, West Madison Entertainment
Distribution: IFC Films