Film Review: The Exception (2016) Dir. David Leveaux
THE EXCEPTION (2016) DIR. DAVID LEVEAUX
Written by Belle McIntyre
I have never seen a film or a play with Christopher Plummer that was not worth seeing. This film is no exception. Based on the book, The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd and directed by the accomplished theatre director, David Leveaux, in his first try at film direction. He is obviously just as talented in film as theatre. This is a gorgeous production, with splendid sets, in the beautiful Netherlandish countryside and perfectly designed costumes. Featuring a stellar cast starring the elegant Christopher Plummer as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Janet McTeer as Princess Hermine, the Kaiser’s wife, Lily James as Mieke, the maid in the Kaiser’s household and Jai Courtney as Captain Stephen Brandt, assigned to head the security detail of the Kaiser.
The time is 1940’s and the Germans are beginning their occupation of Europe and moving into the Netherlands where the deposed Kaiser has lived in pastoral exile with his wife, Princess Hermine, for the last 20 years. He is living in quasi-isolated, delusional comfort. He still dresses and dines formally and has a loyal major domo who delivers communiques regarding current events in Berlin where he imagines his opinion matters. He has a closet full of military uniforms, displays of weaponry, beautiful tableware and all of the accoutrements of royalty. He receives his guests with noblesse oblige which is somewhat inappropriate given that he is completely powerless in his current situation. He harbors the unrealistic notion that he will be re-instated as the head of state by Hitler. His wife ardently fuels this wishful fantasy, which she also shares.
This state of mind is why they see nothing odd about a visit by Heinrich Himmler and the arrival of a new security detail headed by Captain Stephan Brandt. For them these events are signs of their increasing relevance. Alas, this could not be farther from the truth. The reality is that the Germans have picked up signals from British intelligence which is coming from somewhere near the Kaiser’s estate. It seems that Churchill has the idea of convincing the Kaiser to take refuge in England, where he could be used as a bargaining chip with Hitler. Apparently the German population still holds the Kaiser dear in their affection, even though he was a fairly terrible ruler. But when compared to Hitler and the Nazis he looks relatively benign.
Into this placid scenario there is a lot of intrigue about to erupt. This comes in the person of the buff and handsome Captain Brandt who locks glances with the gamine housemaid, Mieke, immediately upon arrival. They waste no time getting into a tense and urgent sexual tango, by turns controlled by him and then by her. As the Germans in Berlin narrow down their search for the British spy they start closing in on the Kaiser’s home. As the inflamed passions become a genuine romance between these two, Mieke is observed behaving suspiciously, after she has confessed to Capt. Brandt that she is Jewish and that her parents were killed by the Nazis. This creates an impossible conflict for the Captain, pitting his duty to his country against the unconscionable tactics and not so hidden agenda of the Nazis as well as his devotion to Mieke. As things unravel and events begin to move quickly and spiral out of control, Capt. Brandt acts on his instincts which are obviously motivated by better angels, as does the Kaiser, in the end. It is a gripping finale and a satisfying end to just one small episode in what went on to become one of the darkest periods in modern history. I found it thoroughly involving, well-acted and wonderful to look at. I only wish it had a better title. It deserves one.