The Exception




Director David Leveaux has adapted the 2003 novel by Alan Judd, “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss” into a film titled THE EXCEPTION.  Interweaving fact with fiction, the story has the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) and his wife Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer) languishing in exile in a grand house in The Netherlands.  He had been forced to abdicate after his country’s defeat in World War One and the dismantling of the Second Reich.  It is 1940 and Germany is again at war and following the invasion of The Netherlands, a young officer, Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) has been sent to head the ex-Kaiser’s personal bodyguard.  Wilhelm potters about the estate playing the country squire and receiving daily briefings about the war via his aide played by Ben Daniels.  His wife autocratically runs the household with typical Prussian efficiency and harbors hopeless dreams of a restoration of the monarchy. 


Captain Brandt has been specifically tasked to locate a spy in the ex-Kaiser’s household who has been radioing information to England concerning high level Nazi visitors, primarily Heinrich Himmler (played with a loathsome, dead-eyed steeliness by the wonderful Eddie Marsan) and their table talk with Wilhelm.  The problem for Brandt (apart from being naive about the true nature of Nazi evil at that stage) is that he falls in love with a beautiful maid named Mieke (Lily James) who turns out to be both the spy and Jewish.  As the S.S. hunters close in on her he must make a hard decision as to whether to remain loyal to his oath or to the woman he loves. 


Brandt has witnessed atrocities in Poland prior to this posting but still assumes that the new German state and its military are fundamentally decent and that what he saw was an aberration.  Meike tells him “No, they are the rule.  You are the exception” thus referencing the title. 


David Leveaux has been primarily a theatre director and this is his first (and thus far only) feature film.  While it lacks the punch of Paul Verhoeven’s 2006 BLACK BOOK that also dealt with a female Dutch Jewish spy risking all while embedded inside the occupying German military apparatus, it maintains a good pace and at an economical 107 minutes does not suffer from padding or overstay its welcome.  


History buffs will spot where movie fiction overtakes fact but writer Simon Burke has managed a good adaptation of the novel and the disparities are not glaring. eg- Himmler did not visit the ex-Kaiser but Goering certainly did. 


The love story between Mieke and Brandt is the crux around which the various storyline strands are woven.  Is he exploiting her or is she using him for clandestine purposes?  If he is as smitten as seems apparent, will her whispered news of anti semitic horrors and German monstrosities lift the scales from his eyes before her looming arrest?  Both Lily James and Jai Courtney are very attractive people whose cinematic stars are in the extreme ascendency.  Courtney is an Australian actor whose first feature film was only in 2009 and James is the impossibly pretty English rose who debuted in feature films in 2012.  But both look unstoppable at this time and they have a strong screen chemistry in this movie.


However, no one comes close to the grand old master of the screen, Christopher Plummer.  I sincerely doubt that the real Wilhelm II was a twinkling charmer with the occasional avuncular air but Plummer almost makes us believe it.  While this may fall nearer to a Merchant Ivory take on wartime Europe rather than the searing nightmare that was Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde’s union in THE NIGHT PORTER, it is a well crafted movie that holds the viewer’s interest for the duration. 







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