The Exception is a flawed and rather puzzling World War 2 drama featuring a good cast in uneasy form.
The film début of British stage director David Leveaux, this is probably now only getting a release in cinemas due to the appearance by Lily James, who’s very lovely here but notably stilted. It was actually filmed several years ago, after she was in Downton Abbey and Pride And Prejudice And Zombies but before Baby Driver, Darkest Hour and The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. If it was made now she would be the toplining star and she wouldn’t have to agree to gratuitous nude and sex scenes where she and co-star Jai Courtney look hopelessly passionless.
During WW2 Nazi Captain Stefan Brandt (the Sydney-born Jai playing German) is sent to Utrecht in The Netherlands to serve as bodyguard to Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer, a Canadian playing German). Plummer’s in cranky form and unusually tries to dominate scenes early on, but Stefan doesn’t mind as he’s soon enjoying a dangerous but dodgy relationship with maid Mieke de Jong (the English Lily playing a Dutch woman), and both get nude quite quickly, as if trying to get the embarrassment out of the way and settle down to some proper acting.
This chance doesn’t really come though, as dull skullduggery begins and the fairly dim Stefan seems not to understand what the audience can see a mile off (maybe his judgment was clouded by all those endorphins?). Gestapo type Dietrich (Mark Dexter) fears that the British Secret Service are lurking nearby, the Kaiser’s wife Hermine (the English Janet McTeer playing German) takes a prurient interest in Stefan’s sex life, Stefan thinks someone close by is part of the Dutch resistance, and no less than Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) is on the way. If only we cared!
While the acting is muted, the direction plodding, the suspense weak and the rude bits unnecessary, what might annoy WW2 purists here is the fact that this is all highly fictionalised, meaning that much of it is at best speculative and the rest ludicrously pulled out of thin air.
Rated MA. The Exception is in cinemas now.