World War II dramas often recreate famous conflicts, such as the battle of Normandy or the assault on Pearl Harbor. The Exception makes an… exception to this by taking us deep into a historically rich yet fictional Germany.
Seasoned actor Christopher Plummer takes on the role of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor. Striped of his power and relegated to the Holland countryside, Wilhelm is now only a king of a lone mansion in the woods and a throng of servants. The authority he once knew has all but diminished. He is kept like a pet by the Third Reich at Hitler’s behest. The secluded manor and surrounding foliage he presides over is rife with depression, not only felt by the emperor himself, but also his wife, and most trusted adviser. This sensation of sadness is made even worse when Nazi officials believe the Kaiser’s life is under threat by a spy living under his own roof. Disgraced Captain Stefan Brandt, played by Jai Courtney, is dispatched to keep the once king of Germany from harm. However, this supposed Nazi soon falls in love with a Jewish maid played by Lilly James.
The film’s choice of locations and designs are pleasing to the eyes, from striking green forests to the faithful restoration of the Kaiser’s medal-encrusted jacket, all of which sets a sense of authentic groundwork and lays the foundation of believability as the narrative expands and then swells with each character’s contrasting motives. Even as the conclusion closes in, we are never quite certain of an individual’s intentions. Despite this, the plot builds at a slow, steady pace, as one would expect from a historical fiction piece. It is, nevertheless, entertaining thanks to the way in which we gradually become accustomed to the characters, and the refreshing implementation of humor. Like any well-made period drama, there are moments of nail-biting tension. For instance, the mansion in the woods is set upon by Nazi officials fanning friendship to the once powerful nobility. The Kaiser reacts in astounded horror while he listens to the infamously evil Heinrich Himmler gleefully describe the torture imposed on those imprisoned by the Nazis.
Being a work of fiction, The Exception allows for some inconsistencies in the World War II timeline, which in turn, allows for a possible happy ending. However, you will need to watch to see if such an ending takes place.
Actor Christopher Plummer, actress Janet McTeer, and Director David Leveaux attended a showing of the film at New York’s BMCC Performing Arts Center. After walking the red carpet, the trio took to the stage and answered the audience’s questions about the film.
When asked if there was any truth behind Heinrich Himmler’s visit to the Kaiser estate, Director Leveaux had this to say: “That visit by Himmler is not based on historical fact. It’s a financial compression of the moment when the Kaiser became aware of what the new Germany was. Hence, it became the event where all the tectonic plates shift in the film. What is based on historical fact is Winston Churchill’s motion of persuading the Kaiser to come to London”
Aside from the historical aspects, the comedy was another talking point. When a viewer remarked he was surprised at how funny the film is, Christopher Plummer had this to say: “The Emperor, of course, is well known for having very little sense of humor. But if we played that as it was, you wouldn’t be still setting here.” This roused a roar of laughter.