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A finishing school for Nazis

Review by Dermot Hudson

Six Minutes to Midnight: Lionsgate 2020. Director: Andy Goddard. Writers: Andy Goddard (screenplay), Celyn Jones (story) and Eddie Izzard (story). Stars: Eddie Izzard, Judi Dench, Carla Juri, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent and Celyn Jones. 99mins. 12A/PG-13.

I RECENTLY stumbled on this historically based thriller, which proved to be an interesting and fairly enjoyable watch. It stars Eddie Izzard, who co-wrote the film, as an MI5 agent sent to infiltrate a school for German girls in the south of England. This was quite a change from Izzard’s usual roles, and he proves himself to be an excellent and capable actor. The film also includes veterans such as Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent.Six Minutes to Midnight

The film is set in August 1939, in the run-up to the Second World War. The plot revolves around an unusual private school for girls, the Augusta Victoria College in Bexhill On Sea. This is not just any old private school for posh girls however, but a finishing school for German girls, many of whom are said to be the daughters of top Nazis.

The school is run by the Anglo-German Fellowship. It does of course need to be pointed out that the Augusta Victoria College and the Anglo-German Fellowship were both very real indeed. The Anglo-German Fellowship had many ruling-class figures as members, including a large number of Conservative MPs and peers as well as “National Labour” MPs. Although unlike the overtly ideological and political fascist movements such as Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, the Anglo-German Fellowship was ostentatiously a cultural organisation – it did however reflect pro-fascist, pro-Nazi opinion within the ruling class. After all, the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the hope that it would one day destroy the socialist USSR was an official policy.

This is reflected in the film by the fact when the school has an open day many local bigwigs attend and for the most part its activities are unhindered, although British intelligence is very suspicious.

In the film the Swiss-style finishing school has a definite espionage function and sports teacher Frau Keller is a German agent, and a dangerous one at that. The MI5 agent sent to infiltrate the school is found dead (although the film does not explain exactly how he was killed nor by whom).

Another MI5 agent, the German-speaking Thomas Miller played by Izzard, is sent to infiltrate the school. Miller ends up getting framed by the Nazis and going on the run.

The fifth-column fascist-sympathising part of the ruling class is represented by James D’Arcy’s upper-class police detective Captain Drey, who initially sounds righteously patriotic but is himself a Nazi agent.

One positive of the film is that it captures the atmosphere of Britain in the run-up to the Second World War. There is some carefree jollity and scenes of the seaside, but also hints of what is to come such as the police removing road signs because they could assist an invasion force.

On the negative side, a few of the characters switch sides but it is never clearly explained why. I also felt that there could have been a bit more anti-fascism in the film. Although the film is supposedly set around the east Sussex coast it was actually shot on location in south Wales – and the fortress is clearly not the Pevensey castle it’s said to be!ism is no substitute for a real agenda for change that can win the support of the workers whom Labour claims to represent.