Eddie Izzard: ‘When people use lies as tool of politics, humanity starts to die'
Nazi thriller Six Minutes to Midnight is a fictional film resting upon quite surprising factual foundations, as actor and stand-up Eddie Izzard tells Danielle de Wolfe
AN EXTRAORDINARY tale combining Nazi ideals and an English all-girls finishing school, you would be forgiven for thinking Six Minutes To Midnight's premise was entirely fictitious.
Created by and starring award-winning writer and comedian Eddie Izzard, in partnership with Man Hunt and Submergence actor Celyn Jones, the thriller's factual underpinning is every inch the material great spy thrillers are based upon.
“The blazer badge kind of says it all,” remarks Izzard (59) of the school's distinctive logo. “Now, a lot of people went to school and had uniforms; you'd have a blazer, maybe you'd have a badge on your blazer, it would have said the school.
“This school in question is the Augusta Victoria College for Girls. It's in Bexhill-on-Sea, a seaside town on the south coast where I grew up," adds Aden-born Izzard, who spent several years of his childhood in Bangor, Co Down.
“It has the British flag on it like you'd expect because it's a school in Britain – it also had the Nazi flag right next to that. And I just thought, ‘seriously? what is this?'”
In a world where fact is often stranger than fiction, Izzard's fascination surrounding the history of the hometown Nazi finishing school grew.
Described by the actor and comedian as a school for “German girls wanting to get to know members of the British aristocracy”, the college became a haven for Nazi sympathisers, one which saw the children and god-children of many high-ranking Nazi officials, including Hitler's second in command, enter through its doors.
“They were listening to Hitler's speeches, we know that they were saluting – doing the Nazi salute to the actual radio, to the actual radio player, after the speeches," says Izzard.
“Himmler's goddaughter was at the school, von Ribbentrop was the German ambassador [whose official title was Foreign Minister], his daughter was at the school [and] was getting delivered to school in an armour-plated Mercedes with German guards in uniforms guarding her.
“That was the truth of what happened between 1932 and 1939 and so I just thought, ‘Let's drop our story on top of that'.
The school was shut down in 1939 upon the outbreak of the Second World War, and Six Minutes To Midnight takes these factual foundations and intertwines them with a fictional storyline of Izzard and Jones's making.
With Set Fire To The Stars director Andy Goddard at the helm, the film also stars Skyfall's Dame Judi Dench as school governess Miss Rocholl, Blade Runner 2049's Carla Juri as fellow teacher Ilse Keller, alongside Bridget Jones actor Jim Broadbent and Dunkirk star James D'Arcy.
Izzard plays journeyman teacher Thomas Miller – the gender fluid performer, who recently announced that her preferred pronouns are she/her, is no stranger to taking on male roles.
Appointed by the school's governess (Dench) following the mysterious disappearance of teacher Mr Wheatley, the coastal college soon finds itself drawing a lot of attention.
Izzard's Mr Miller is able to foresee the school's troubling dynamic and attempts to raise the alarm, only to find himself framed for murder.
“There's always someone in some government that has a crazy plan up their sleeve,” says Izzard of the storyline's plausibility. “They [the United Sates intelligence services] were trying to kill Castro with exploding cigars or poisoned cigars or whatever they were doing.
“So, we know there's always someone that's coming up with a weird plan. And that's why my character is constantly questioning what is going on.”
It's a project that could easily be framed as a simple tale of good versus evil; however, Izzard's depiction of the girls as passive Germans in a foreign land is sure to alter viewers' perception of events.
“There are some of us in the world who look for connections and similarities amongst all human beings – as Shakespeare said, ‘if we cut us, do we not bleed?' Everyone is the same, the same genetics."
Then, Izzard says, there are the individuals who point out “layers of differences until you have people saying ‘these people are very different'.
“Even at that time, [people] were saying, ‘no, let's not believe this stuff' because also, you get conspiracy theories put into you.”
The subject of conspiracy theories is particularly apt, given recent world events including Black Lives Matter protests and a global pandemic, both of which have both seen a range of disinformation emerge as a result.
“A number of people now are buying into conspiracy theories which are based on rubbish, out and out lies,” says Izzard. “That's what the Nazis did back then. The Jewish people, let's blame them for everything. Why? Just because you can. Let's blame the Muslims this time. Let's blame the Methodists, blame the farmers.”
It is a perpetual cycle of false information and blame that currently extends to the world of politics, according to Izzard.
“When people use lies as a tool of politics, then humanity starts to die; that happened 90 years ago,” she states. “We're seeing President Biden has come in, so you hope things are going forward, but Trump is saying he's still around. It's a bad time.
“The simplistic politicians of the world who are just wanting to get ahead by chancing and lying their way forward, so, there but for the grace of God go all of us.”
It is precisely the landscape within which the comedian hopes to make change. Swapping the world of stand-up comedy for politics, Izzard's sights are set on a parliamentary seat come the next election.
“I'm a radical and a moderate and I do radical things with a moderate message,” she says. “I think a lot of moderates don't go into politics because it looks too… too… I was going to say evil, but it looks too, you know, twisted and jaded and weird.
“So, a lot of moderate people will say, ‘Well, stuff that, I'm just going to live my life and I won't do that' but I'm going to go in. I'm not mucking about with it, so I'm looking for a seat.
“I'm relentless, so I'll keep going,” she insists. “I don't want us to go back to the 1930s. I'm trying to encourage us to go forward to the 2030s. And hopefully the film resonates against us going backwards.”
:: Six Minutes To Midnight is available on Sky Cinema and Now TV now.