Novels and films have filled us with possibilities of historical events since the first written words appeared and images on celluloid blasted across movie screens. They give us the opportunity to make the impersonal facts personal, to insert characters into a story filled with what ifs rather than just the facts. Some work, some don’t, but most fall somewhere in between. Such is the case with THE EXCEPTION.
Jai Courtney stars as Capt. Stefan Brandt, a WWII German officer assigned the task of security for Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) now safely ensconced in Holland. Brandt is given the assignment in lieu of a reprimand for an event we are not yet aware of as the film begins. The Germans have invaded the Netherlands and the location of the Kaiser is now under their jurisdiction, thus Brandt’s assignment.
When he arrives Brandt is instructed on how things operate here. The belief is that one day Wilhelm will return to the throne and become king once again. He is still treated as royalty, which he is, and all around him caters to that position. One of the earliest instructions Brandt is given is to never associate with the help.
Of course he ignores this instruction the first night when an invitation to dinner the next night is delivered by one of the maid, Mieke (Lily James). Before dismissing her Brandt orders her to strip and has sex with her. Mieke complies without comment and leaves when done. An attraction between the two forms and they meet behind closed doors and in secret from there on.
As all of this unfolds at the home of the Kaiser, Gestapo agents in town are seeking a British secret agent rumored to be in town. Scanning with electronic equipment they have narrowed down where orders are coming from via Morse code but haven’t pinpointed it yet.
As things progress and Brandt comes to know the Kaiser for who he really is, various items are revealed to the viewer. What was the affront committed by Brandt? Who is the British spy most likely located within the Kaiser’s staff or on his grounds? And does loyalty to one’s country mean loyalty to one’s leaders?
All things come to a head when a visit by Heinrich Himmler is announced. Himmler informs the Kaiser that he is needed to return to Berlin in the coming days with the intent of placing him back on the throne. In secret he lets the local Gestapo head and Brandt know that this is just a ploy to root out those who still support the Kaiser. The plan sets in motion events that the story has led to at a faster pace.
The movie is well made on a technical level. Well shot and staged with solid directing of all involved makes the movie easy to watch. The sets and costuming are well done here, creating a movie that makes us feel we are there rather than one where spotless uniforms are the rule of the day ruining any sense of reality.
All of the actors involved do a tremendous job. Courtney stands out offering a low key approach to his character. I feel as if all other films I’ve seen him in have presented him in an over the top style. Here he plays Brandt as a man thinking and feeling instead of a blustering take charge man. James also does a good job here as Mieke, a woman who is torn as to what to do. And Plummer as always turns in an excellent portrayal of his character.
My only problem with the film lies in the relationship between Brandt and Mieke, at least at first. It begins almost immediately in the film and is so abrupt as to make it the one unbelievable moment in the film. Their first time alone together, while not violent, actually amounts to a rape and yet they fall for one another. I found that difficult to believe. To think that they fall in love afterwards is a bit much.
With that exception I found the movie entertaining and interesting. The plot is believable and it may stir up interests for some in what really became of Kaiser Wilhelm II for those who do not know. I know that it did in me. In the meantime the movies offers a bit of escape from a historical perspective and is worth giving a watch.
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