A Film a Week - The Exception

We can all agree that television production has grown over the course of the last 10 or 20 years, improving significantly not just its quantity, but also its quality. With the recent TV series and films done by proven helmers and producers, I am not so sure if “TV-worthy” still stands as a negative comment in the terms of anything actually, writing, directing, acting, production values... Nevertheless, I am ready to take chances to be called obsolete, and call The Exception basically a TV film that has somehow smuggled into the theatres. And when I say TV, I do not have HBO or some such in mind. It is more like 90’s television, apt for a Sunday afternoon slot.

The screen debut by the British stage director David Leveaux, written by TV veteran Simon Burke based on a popular history novel by Alan Judd, The Exception is a WWII-themed espionage drama with more than a drop of melodramatic romance. The year is 1940. and the Nazis are invading Belgium and Holland where the last German Kaiser Wilhelm II (veteran actor Christopher Plummer) lives in exile since the defeat in WWI. A Wermacht captain and a veteran of Polish campaign Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) has been sent there to scout the terrain and to maybe prepare a plan for the Kaiser and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), to return to Germany under the wing of national-socialism. However, the rumor is there is a British spy in the mansion, so Gestapo is sniffing around and our captain, against better judgment, falls hard for a Dutch-Jewish servant girl Mieke (Lilly James). And, of course, the visit of Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) to the house is announced.

As it is obvious from the plot (and from the source novel), this is one of “those” films that try to juggle to many things and ideas and to wrap it all up in a candy-coating of period-piece countryside. Trying to hard to do so, The Exception is more often than not unintentionally funny, while remaining shallow. The reason for that is a silly romantic subplot between Mieke and Stefan that starts with a real “wtf” moment when he orders her to take her clothes off first time he sees her, only for her to turn the tables when they meet again. The utter lack of chemistry between the two does not do any good either.

Yet, The Exception is still watchable and even somewhat fun. The reason for that is not Burke’s TV-style writing, nor Leveaux’ lazy directing, but the acting of Christopher Plummer that nails the bitter aristocrat, the dethroned king trope in a great manner that lets him be amusing, but still cool and never even near to the territory of cartoonish. Obviously, he has got the best lines in the whole film since the kookiness of the Kaiser is the central thing in the novel, but the actor still deserves all the credit. Apart from him, an episode of Eddie Marsan as Himmler is also a highlight of the film especially because the actor had no juicy one-liners and had to take it seriously and make his character somewhat deadpan funny, while still monstrous.

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