A moving, intriguing, evocative film, David Leveaux’s The Exception is an epic drama and thriller that presents 1940’s Europe during Hitler’s rule in a light that is horrifying, but also human and nuanced.
The always brilliant Christopher Plummer plays Wilhelm II, a retired Kaiser who aspires to restore the monarchy to Germany. His wife, the commanding Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer) watches over the household, her authoritarian manner usurped by her husband at timely moments. Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) has been sent by the SS to keep watch on the Kaiser – a target of assassination plots – and to protect him, with a warning that “If anything happens to him you will be shot”. He is beguiled by a mysterious Dutch maid, Mieke de Jong (Lily James), who helps him realise the truth about the Nazis. Brandt is presented as a German officer with a conscience who has frequent nightmares about mass civilian deaths and constant growing doubts about his party. His own family had been victims of the previous monarchy’s callous ignorance of its people’s suffering, motivating his initial belief in Germany’s National Socialist Party. The presence of an unknown British spy – with a message from Winston Churchill – is a crucial element of the movie.
A frightening Himmler (Eddie Marsan) visiting the Kaiser’s estate is a point of revelation in the film – notably when the SS leader casually speaks of injecting acid into children’s hearts – providing a rapid jolt of shock to the monarchs and officers, revelations of the monstrous truths about the Nazis’ real nature expunging their illusions.
Accompanied by powerful, dramatic symphonic background music, the cinematography is stunning, with smoky, moody lighting and gorgeous, well-designed shots of exquisitely composed settings and landscapes. Period costumes are smartly conceived and effective.
The characterisations in this picture are well developed, revealing multi-faceted human beings. Tasteful but edgy erotic scenes between Brandt and de Jong at first echo films like cult classic The Night Porter, without the sadomasochism – though in actuality the affair is highly romantic. The acting in general is superb, with a standout performance by Plummer.
Despite the morbidly chilling nature of Second World War Nazism, the spirit of The Exception is positive and hopeful. As a suspense thriller the work provides edge-of-your-seat, teeth clenching tension throughout. Very well executed, it has the seamless quality and dramatic elements of vintage cinema combined with contemporary filmic sophistication.
The Exception is released nationwide on 29th September 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Exception here: