The Exception (2017)
Written by Simon Burke
Directed by David Leveaux
Captain Stefan Brandt, a member of Hitler’s Third Reich, is assigned to protect the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II at his country home in the Netherlands. Once there he finds a former monarch who is hesitant to throw his support behind the Fuhrer. The Gestapo shows up to check out a rumored English spy among the villagers, and Brandt seems rather uninterested in this side hunt. Instead, he becomes enamored with Mieke, a young maid in the Kaiser’s staff. Things suddenly become even more complicated when word comes that SS Commander Heinrich Himmler is coming to secure the Kaiser’s loyalty. Brandt finds himself torn between his duty to Germany, his admiration of the Kaiser, and his love for Mieke.
The Exception feels like a made for television BBC movie. Not that the BBC makes bad movies but the production quality is not up to the scale of a theatrical release. This is made first apparent through the poor cinematography and lighting. I believe this is because first-time film director Simon Burke comes from a stage background where cinematography doesn’t even exist, and lighting is a different animal. Everything in the Exception’s visuals feels, and the rest of the film doesn’t lend to this which leads me to believe it’s not an aesthetic choice.
The second major problem is that the script is a mess regarding tone and dialogue. There is way too much story for such a short movie. You have the core of the film, which is the love story between Brandt and Mieke. This is given a slight majority of the screen time but not enough for me to ever feel like I understand why these two characters are attracted to each other beyond essentially “they need to be for the movie to work.” Alongside this we have the story of the Kaiser in his twilight, contemplating his legacy, and working as a living metaphor for the things that drove young men like Brandt into Nazism. The Kaiser is deeply conflicted about how his decisions led to millions of Germans dying, starving, and otherwise suffering. He isn’t a saint though and buys into much of Hitler’s ideology. Then we have the visit from Himmler and the hunt for the English spy. It feels more like plot points to be developed in a mini-series or a television show. Too much and not written well enough.
The Exception also features discount Tom Hardy aka Jai Courtney. That is the biggest blight for me. Not once does Courtney make Brandt a believable character. He plays it like any typical pretty boy in a mediocre melodrama, which is Courtney’s specialty. Lily James plays Mieke and appears to be finding a middle ground between the melodrama and doing strong character work. If the film had made her the central character, I think it could have been slightly better. Christopher Plummer rounds out the main cast as the Kaiser, and he is excellent, which is what you expect from someone of Plummer’s caliber.
The Exception is another World War II film that doesn’t add much to the genre. It’s a bland melodramatic romance without much chemistry between its two leads. The romance gets lost in a sea of other subplots, so many that it doesn’t add up to anything of real substance.