Monday, March 22, 2021

Six Minutes to Midnight: The Augusta Victoria College Intrigue

Augusta Victoria College in Bexhill-on-Sea was the sort of finishing school Oswald Mosley could get behind. Eventually, it became a temporary war hospital, but throughout the 1930s, it specialized in educating the daughters of the National Socialist elite. It sounds like the sort of place British Intelligence should have kept a close eye on, so it is a good thing deep plant [Captain] Thomas Miller has accepted a teaching post there. His teenaged charges might not look dangerous, but the violent fate of his undercover predecessor suggests otherwise in Andy Goddard’s Six Minutes to Midnight, which releases in theaters and on-demand this Friday.

Headmistress Rocholl is not overwhelmed by Miller, but his mother was German, so his Deutsch fluency certainly helps. Initially, Miller’s fellow teacher, Ilse Keller, is far more welcoming, but she also acts considerably more suspiciously. Fortunately, the students are fairly accepting of Miller, despite their general Stepford-like demeanor, with the exception of Gretel, the sensitive outsider.

Goddard and his co-scripting co-stars, Eddie Izzard and Celyn Jones do a nice job of recapturing the vibe of vintage John Buchan thrillers, especially when Miller is falsely suspected of murder and forced to flee across the British countryside. The late 1930’s end-of-appeasement era also adds an intriguing (and uncomfortably timely) dimension to the
39 Steps-like intrigue.

Izzard is quite effective, playing Miller relatively restrained, but with enough wry cynicism to appeal to rebellious teens and Churchillian back-benchers. It is some of Izzard's more understated work, but it is still a lively, charismatic performance. Dame Judi Dench has some nice, conflicted moments down the stretch as Miss Rocholl (who, according to many accounts, gets better treatment from Goddard than she deserved). The outright villains are also consistently interesting, definitely including Carla Juri as Keller. Plus, Jones really helps bring it all home as the working-class Corporal Willis.

It might seem hard to believe Britain could blithely allow Augusta Victoria to groom the daughters of German elites to eventual take their places in a hostile regime, but just look how we have allowed the CCP to infiltrate our most prestigious universities in the West. Indeed, this film
reminds us how history repeats itself.  Goddard is probably still best known for TV work, like Downton Abbey, but as his feature follow-up to A Kind of Murder, Six Minutes continues to show his keen affinity for period mystery-thrillers. Highly recommended, Six Minutes to Midnight releases this Friday (2/26) in theaters (including the Kew Gardens Cinema) and will also be available on-demand.