I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
It’s quite remarkable when war movies can narrow the scope, uncover a lesser-known true story from its era, and can still make it feel just as thematically massive as a work produced by Steven Spielberg or Clint Eastwood. Films like 2014’s The Imitation Game and IFC Films’ Resistance are two such examples that give weight to the power of intimate storytelling as a way for viewers to appreciate the totality of war better. It’s never just one single mission, but thousands upon thousands that warrant their own feature film.
Based on actual events, Six Minutes to Midnight is the latest period drama/thriller to lead with this thinking. Downton Abbey director Andy Goddard is at the helm, working from a script by Goddard, Eddie Izzard, and Celyn Jones. Izzard herself takes the lead role in an outstanding ensemble that includes Judi Dench, James D’Arcy, Carla Juri, Celyn Jones, and Jim Broadbent.
Set in summer 1939, the suspenseful story plunges audiences into a historical rearview when Europe’s relationships are fraying. Adolf Hitler’s power is growing as Britain and Nazi Germany’s tensions are at a boiling point. The action takes us to Bexhill-on-Sea’s seaside town at a small all-girls school nestled into the rural landscape. However, this isn’t just any finishing school. Its pupils are entirely German and, in some cases, the daughters and goddaughters of Nazi high command.
Professor Thomas Miller, who’s brought to life with nuance and admirable stoicism by Izzard, arrives at the school (the Augusta Victoria College) and begins to gather the breadcrumbs of inevitable doom. When he attempts to sound the alarm for Britain, though, he is labeled an enemy.
Six Minutes to Midnight features an incredible cast who illuminate the film’s fact-based, war-time narrative. It melds together the intensity of a Hitchcockian thriller and the heart of Dead Poets Society for a solid war-time movie. While it doesn’t feel incredibly fresh, Goddard and Co. take what could have very easily been a rote biopic and craft something more intimately drawn.
What works best?
- Pace – It moves at a very fluid rate that eases you into the story quite smoothly, like slipping into a warm bath where you get a history lesson.
- Intensity – once Thomas Miller is on the run, Goddard uses his space and set pieces well.
- Production design – the school itself is beautiful and the environments feel lived-in.
- Izzard – I would love to see Izzard act more. Her character isn’t loud or flashy but surprisingly quiet—the scenes where she teachers the classroom are some of the best moments.
- Carla Juri – This is the MVP performance of the film. Juri (Blade Runner 2049) portrays Ilse, a German gymnastics tutor and the school’s right-hand woman under Judi Dench’s Miss Rocholl. Her character may be a little one-dimensional, but Juri sells so much with her eyes.
What doesn’t work as much?
- Characterization – This is a big one. One wishes there was more to the girls at the school. The film does focus on the key players, but it could have used a scene or two to establish the relationships better among the girls at the school. Make us care more for what the narrative is building towards. What’s mainly causing you to have compassion for everyone is that the film is based on truth (with creative liberties, of course). It’s imagining everyone going through this.
Six Minutes to Midnight is now playing in theaters and available on On-Demand platforms.
Our interview with director/co-writer Andy Goddard & co-writer Celyn Jones
If you’d like to prime your interests with more flavor, watch our video interview below with filmmakers Andy Goddard and Celyn Jones. We discuss making the “micro feel macro” when telling a war story, balancing the writing responsibilities, and how Eddie Izzard helped further develop the filmmakers’ storytelling process.