Review: The Exception

There is certainly no shortage of WWII films and therefore it’s sometimes a challenge to find a fresh and original cinematic take on this piece of world history. The Exception (formerly The Kaiser’s Last Kiss) from director David Leveaux and screenwriter Simon Burke, successfully manages provide a new take by focusing on Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) and his time in exile during WWII.

After his defeat in the Great War, Kaiser Wilhelm II is living in exile in Holland as Hitler rises to power in Germany. Whilst the Kaiser reflects on the place of a monarchy in Nazi Germany, SS Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), stationed at the Kaiser’s palace, must attempt to flush out a Dutch resistance spy working in the compound.

Adapting Alan Judd’s novel, Burke presents a tale that focuses on a unique angle – that of the Kaiser and his years post-WW1. This a narrative that has yet to receive big-screen treatment (to my knowledge) and the Kaiser’s later life makes for a thrilling character-driven tale. Part wartime espionage thriller and part historical biography, Plummer’s Kaiser is plagued with frustration and anger over his betrayal and loss of power/reputation in his home nation. Hitler’s anti-monarchist stance has left him redundant and in exile, powerless and seen as weak due to his defeat in the previous war. This angle allows Plummer deliver of a performance of emotional depth presenting this former figurehead as a deeply-human, fractured protagonist. Plummer has the right amount of regal authority and debonair charm to excel in The Exception.

Placed within this emotional minefield is the espionage tale which sees Courtney’s SS Captain and Lily James’s Dutch housemaid entangled in a web of lust, intrigue and deception. The relationship between the pair can occasionally feel half-baked and rushed in its build-up, yet Courtney and James have a welcome chemistry that makes this forgivable. Courtney provides a performance that should soften his harshest critics as Brandt – a man who finds his loyalties continually changing as he builds new relationships with James’s Mieke and the Kaiser. A full-frontal appearance from the actor also ensures that The Exception has enough steamy sex appeal to be avoid being dubbed a stodgy period piece. James’ does well as Mieke, a role deserving of more depth and clarity. The character’s interests continually twist to suit the narrative route of The Exception, regularly feeling inauthentic.

Director of Photography Roman Osin’s cinematography captures the idyllic beauty of the Kaiser’s Dutch palace, far from the horrors of front-line battle, whilst Ilan Eshkeri’s score gives The Exception the feel of a classic addition to the war film genre.

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