The Exception Review
The Exception blends wartime drama with a Romeo and Juliet style love story and delivers on both
Charged with the protection of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Capt. Stefan Brandt is under the impression his mission will be a simple one but love, lies, deceit and espionage challenge all that he believes in.Five time Tony Award nominee David Leveaux takes a break from Broadway with his cinematic directorial debut The Exception. Adapted from a novel titled ‘The Kaiser’s Last Kiss’ written by Alan Judd and shot on location in Belgium, The Exception tells the story of what appears to be a doomed romance and the conflicts between matters of the heart and the head, all set against the backdrop of the Second World War. The year is 1940 and the Nazi regime are about to invade Belgium and the Netherlands, but out in Holland’s picturesque countryside resides German Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) and his wife Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer). Interestingly Plummer offers up more of a sweet old grandfather like portrayal of the Kaiser, rather than the Nazi sympathiser you might imagine.Plummer is cute and cuddly in the role, taking immense pleasure from feeding his ducks and poking fun at Hitler. Far more eager to return to their royal way of living is Hermine – who’s quick to cover for her husbands lack of tact when it comes to conversations about Hitler and his rule. Together they have been living in exile for 22 years and enjoy a relatively peaceful existence, funded by the German government, miles away from the horrific acts of war that are taking place around them it seems. When news arrives that a Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) will be charged with the Kaiser’s security and protection the former royal couple start to believe that they might have a chance to return to Berlin and once again take up their royal positions, ruling alongside Hitler.
For Capt. Stefan Brandt this babysitting job is way beneath his pay grade but it emerges that he is apparently still paying the price for refusing to fall into line whilst fighting in Poland some months ago and that, combined with the large pieces of shrapnel lodged in his side that still cause him immense pain and discomfort, mean he is unable to return to the front line to fight. Thankful that his punishment wasn’t more severe Brandt follows orders and sets about making sure the Kaiser is safe and secure. However, it soon transpires that there is an ulterior motive behind Brandt’s new position – with a suspected British spy on the loose somewhere nearby, the Nazis enlist Brandt’s help to flush the enemy agent out.
Helping Brandt feel right at home is the recently hired maid working in the Kaiser’s household, Mieke de Jong (Lily James). An instant attraction between Mieke and Brandt ensues from the very first time they lay eyes on each other and soon turns into a clandestine relationship that is quickly threatened the more they get to know each other. Making matters worse for Brandt is the anticipated arrival of Hitler’s right hand man, Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan), who further fuels the belief that the Kaiser will soon be King but once again things are not that simple. Brandt is put into a difficult and compromising position whereby he must choose between the love for his country and the Third Reich or choose to follow his heart and instincts – thus betraying everything that he stands for.
Leveaux’s directorial debut is an easy watch and although it does feel more like a made-for-TV sort of film, it works well on the big screen. The script, penned by Simon Burke, is fairly straight forward and alas lets loose some of the major plot points fairly early on which unfortunately does give way to predictability. That said, even though its quite easy to figure out how the film will play out, it does manage to remain engaging for the most part. This primarily is a result of the interactions between the characters; Plummer is extremely enjoyable as the Kaiser and comes off more like an eccentric old man especially during his conversations with Mieke; while Brandt isn’t the cold-blooded Nazi captain you might expect but hides a deeper sense of right and wrong beneath his chiseled, uniformed physique shown through his relationship with Mieke.
Yes it’s simple and predictable but it’s still a good story
Jai Courtney gives a strong performance as Brandt despite his German accept faltering slightly here and there. Courtney’s portrayal as the wounded and conflicted soldier is easily one of his best to date and he seems completely as ease with the material (even the full frontal scenes). Lily James is great in her role as Mieke as she watches over everything with her big bright brown eyes. She gives the kind of performance that suggests there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface. She’s strong and determined and not afraid to get what she wants. There are some fairly graphic sex scenes during the early parts of the film which are handled with care and forgo feelings of awkwardness allowing the audience to get to know our central characters a bit better and they also offer some interesting role reversals blurring the lines between who really holds the power in this relationship.
The musical score by Ilan Eshkeri adds a certain amount of tension to the narrative which is reinforced by the sound of transmissions running along in the background both being sent as well as intercepted. The music does at times feel laid on a little think – perhaps in an effort to compensate for the film's predictability at certain stages but overall works well with the action on screen. The film is anchored primarily within the grounds of the Kaiser’s estate venturing only briefly into the local village. While this does remove any sense of terror or fear that would normally be found in a WW2 film it does enable the focus to remain on the story we are being told but cleverly uses props and secondary characters throughout to remind the audience of what atrocities are taking place not too far away.
With good performances from all throughout and decent, albeit simple, cinematography The Exception is a film that easily transports you into the world it depicts. It’s a love story at heart but that love comes in different forms and brings up some challenging questions for our characters to answer.
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