There have been many war films, in all shapes and sizes, showing the dark sides of humanity, romantic tear jerkers, conspiracies and those seen from a different and unlikely perspective, The Exception is no exception to this trend.
While the film doesn’t necessarily offer anything new for the genres it covers, it does feel as if there are two very different stories running side by side. One is the unexpected, yet passionate, romance between a German captain and Jewish Dutch woman. The Captain Brandt is sent to the newly invaded Netherlands to be the personal guard to the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II. He meets Mieke, a maid in the household, who also happens to be a British agent. Their affair and situation becomes complicated when Heinrich Himmler visits the Emperor and they each have to make a choice whether to stay true to their causes or to each other. The other story that runs adjacent to this romantic thrill is a more subdued one, focusing on the Kaiser himself, played as if made for him by Christopher Plummer, and how he is coping with his exile. He cannot let go of the past and continuously goes into fits of rage while his wife tries to calm and try and arrange their return to Berlin.
Based on the novel ‘The Kaiser’s Last Kiss’ by Alan Judd, the film plays out like a typical war romance, star-crossed lovers and a kindly Kaiser who approves of their union and helps them in their causes. It is at times on the melodramatic side of period drama, especially when Mieke is about to be exposed as the British agent. The Kaiser isn’t quite a ‘third wheel’ but he seems very much invested in the couple’s relationship, which is rather odd for an exiled Emperor. Amongst the lovers’ scenes and the Kaiser’s outbursts, there are a few scenes that stand out and almost feel as if they are from another film entirely. Eddie Marsan has a small but vital role as Heinrich Himmler and really does disappear into the character. The dinner scene where Himmler visits the Emperor and Empress is incredibly tense, with characters throwing each other looks galore throughout, but it is when Himmler explains how he kills Jewish children which is most disturbing and everyone in the room has the colour drained from their faces. It is an honestly terrifying moment, and the war enters the film.
The Kaiser’s struggle with exile is another story, but it also serves as background for the main part of the film, the love affair between Brandt (Jai Courtney) and Mieke (Lily James). Their first meeting is brief and barely registers on screen, but their first encounter is troublesome. Mieke is tasked with delivering a message to the Captain but instead he demand she takes her clothes off. She complies silently, with a stubborn expression and it seems this ‘affair’ has an odd beginning. It isn’t until their second encounter where she is waiting for him in his quarters and demands that he remove his clothes, which he eagerly does. The stage is set, balance restored, they are as equally infatuated with each other and ultimately equally lonely and have been longing for someone to be close to.
Although the story is not a new sensation, the story of two halves, a desperately romantic forbidden love alongside the an old man coming to terms with his new place in the current world, there are some good performances to enjoy and even Jai Courntey’s awkward German accent passes the bar. It’s just a shame the original title wasn’t kept.
Dir: David Leveaux
Prd: Lou Pitt, Judy Tossell
Scr: Simon Burke
Based on: The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd
Cast: Lily James, Jai Courtney, Janet McTeer, Christopher Plummer, Ben Daniels, Eddie Marsan
DoP: Roman Osin
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Running time: 107 minutes
will be released in UK cinemas on 2nd October 2017.