The Exception (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on June 4, 2017 @

The best reason for seeing The Exception is Christopher Plummer.

Plummer is a phenomenon. He turns 90 in December. He still has great acting chops.

It's been more than 50 years since he played Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). That role may have given him fame, but it didn't have any range. Neither did he - his singing voice was dubbed in that film.

At the age of 89, he portrays another actual, historic figure in wartime: Kaiser Wilhelm II. This time Plummer is more challenged, and beautifully fulfills that assignment.

In The Exception, it's 1940 and Kaiser Wilhelm is living with his wife in exile in the Netherlands. A German officer Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is sent to Holland to guard the Kaiser and report on him to the Nazis. Wilhelm and his wife Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer) still hope that Wilhelm can be reinstalled as king in Germany.

But the main focus of the film is the furtive romance of Brandt and maid Mieke (Lily James). He is committed to serving his country, and she is Jewish and turns out to be more than just a maid. A world of dread and danger is closing in on them.

The Exception was adapted by screenwriter Simon Burke from Alan Judd's novel The Kaiser's Last Kiss (2003), and there are crucial changes not the least of which is that the names in the novel - Martin Krebbs and Akki - are changed in the film to Brandt and Meike.

Generally, the film holds up to be part gripping adventure, part romance, and part juggled history. The cast gives it substance.

Plummer shifts from fury and rage to wry humor, as he faces what's happening around him and the failures of his past. Plummer couldn't find much room to create character with von Trapp, but he is able to develop in Wilhelm several convincing facets.

The two swastika-crossed lovers are nicely played by Jai Courtney and Lily James. Courtney is a poor man's Tom Hardy, and James is deft as his pragmatic lover.

Eddie Marsan is creepy as Heinrich Himmler who visits Wilhelm. In actuality it was Hermann Goering who did.

But basically the film is Christopher Plummer's. On the Charlie Rose show on tv, Plummer showed that he is still chipper and articulate, when Rose let him speak. [Charlie Rose and Chris Mathews are in the Interruptors Hall of Lame].

Director David Leveaux stresses the romance, adventure, and character, and underplays the horror, although one of Himmler's dinner table conversations is appalling.

But Leveaux generally sanitizes his film to keep it appealing. A collection of dead bodies has only one speck of blood on a girl's dress. This keeps the film accessible to a general audience.

The Exception works as love story and adventure, but the music dominates, and the film has multiple endings. The one in the forest is the best, but in the last part the plot lurches, and the film turns sentimental instead of depending on real sentiment.

It's as though they hired Nicholas Sparks to come in for a rewrite of the ending.

Ultimately, The Exception is a war between malice and the violins. The violins win.

But, at least, Christopher Plummer is the maestro.

© 2000-2018 Tony Macklin