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With: Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan, Anton Lesser, Ben Daniels, Kris Cuppens
Written by: Simon Burke, based on a novel by Alan Judd
Directed by: David Leveaux
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence
Running Time: 107
Date: 06/02/2017

The Exception (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Kaiser Role

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This quasi-biographical drama could have been a dry-as-a-bone history lesson, filled with exposition and explanation, but instead it turns into a glossy romance; it's soft, but ripe and full-blooded.

In The Exception, a disgraced German soldier, Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is assigned to the palace of the former German ruler Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer), still considered a powerful figurehead. It's the early days of WWII, and headquarters seems to think that a British spy is nearby. No sooner does Brandt arrive than he starts an illicit love affair with a Dutch maid, Mieke de Jong (Lily James), which is against the rules of the house.

When they are caught, Wilhelm's wife (Janet McTeer) wants them punished, but Wilhelm gives them a pass, citing his own rowdy youth. Things take a turn when Mieke admits to Brandt that she's actually Jewish, and then Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) pays a visit, hinting at a terrifying new Nazi agenda. Can Brandt continue to protect both Wilhelm and the woman he loves?

In truth, Simon Burke's screenplay — based on a novel by Alan Judd — doesn't even explain who Kaiser Wilhelm II was. Rather, his position and history is slowly, wisely inferred through behavior and dialogue. The same goes for the sinister Nazi Heinrich Himmler; if viewers go into The Exception not knowing this history, they will soon figure it out for themselves.

Director David Leveaux — a Tony-nominated theater director making his feature filmmaking debut — keeps things pretty, classical and straightforward, although he's not afraid to shy away from human sexuality or human fallibility.

It's up to Jai Courtney and Lily James to carry the weight of the story, and they are up to the task. Courtney usually plays a sneering thug, but he softens up nicely for this, and creates a strong chemistry with the adorable James. Even so, the movie's highlight is clearly Christopher Plummer, who plays Kaiser Wilhelm with a delightful twinkle in his eye.

A24 and Lionsgate's home video edition features a digital copy and a Blu-ray. Picture and sound on the latter are quite strong. Bonuses include a quiet, somewhat dry commentary track by director Leveaux, and a 20-minute, studio-produced behind-the-scenes featurette. There are also trailers for other releases, but not this one.

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