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Eddie Izzard plays Thomas Miller in Six Minutes to Midnight.

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  • Six Minutes to Midnight
  • Written and directed by Celyn Jones, Eddie Izzard, Andy Goddard
  • Directed by Andy Goddard
  • Starring Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard, James D’Arcy, David Schofield
  • Classification PG; 99 minutes

Although this film is set at an all-girls finishing school on England’s sandy southern coast, this is no coming-of-age day at the beach. So many Luger pistols tell us as much.

It’s the end of summer, 1939, with Germany and England on the brink of war. Directed by Andy Goddard (whose resumé includes five episodes of the ITV period drama Downton Abbey), the historical old-fashioned spy thriller Six Minutes to Midnight takes itself very seriously. Judi Dench plays a fussy headmistress overseeing the imported daughters of the German high command – “Herr Hitler’s League of German Girls.”

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Judi Dench plays Miss Rocholl.

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One teacher-spy doesn’t even make it past the opening credits before he is taken care of. One minute we see him on the boardwalk in a deck chair; the next minute the seat is empty and a bowler hat flutters in the wind (shades of The Good Shepherd, with which this film would love to be compared).

The school badge has a swastika on one side and a Union Jack on the other. There’s an appetite for alliance. “We shouldn’t apologize for passion,” says Dench’s governess, explaining her appreciation for Germany and her sieg-heiling Astrids and Gretels. “Why should we criticize a country which strives to be great?”

She’s talking to Thomas Miller, the replacement English teacher, capably played by actor-comedian Eddie Izzard. Miller teaches the frauleins how to sing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and surprises the headmistress with his fluency in German. Might he be a secret agent? Somebody suspects so and frames him for murder.

The girls are chips in the pre-war espionage: “Every game of chess needs its pawns” is just one of the film’s overprofound pronouncements. Maybe if the girl characters were developed more, we’d care what happened to them.

Tijan Marei, playing Gretel, leads the other Augusta Victoria College schoolgirls.

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The photography is elegant, but nothing else is. With action that is standard and not at all tense, the melodrama is much higher than the reward. Mind you, the ending would make Leni Riefenstahl proud. It’s Six Minutes to Midnight – does filmmaker Goddard know where his script is?

Six Minutes to Midnight is available on March 26 on video-on-demand platforms and in select theatres.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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