British Director David Leveaux's "The Exception" builds on an Alan Judd novel and a Simon Burke screenplay in creating a well-done and very attractive film that matches several different wish-lists simultaneously.
The fact that Kaiser Wilhelm resided in The Netherlands for years after Germany's WWI defeat is a great story in itself. And this relative of Queen Victoria, though irascible and anti-Semitic, had quite a bit to put up with (not least lifelong disablement of his arm and a faulty balance system). One might, therefore, in the wilder corners of one's imagination, wish to believe that he ended up as a courtly old gent suitable for being played by Christopher Plummer (whom he resembled not a little, if we can believe the photos taken at Huis Doorn - a place not entirely dissimilar from the house portrayed in the film - in which HIM lived from 1920 through to his death in June 1941, along with wife Hermine, whom he loved dearly and was loved dearly by her in return).
Plummer naturally attacks the role as if he had been born for it, and it is a singular pleasure to see him deliver some superb lines superbly well. And as regards screen presence, this actor never lets us down, it goes without saying.
Hermine is played by Janet McTeer - also a good role, but that of their ADC Sigurd is handled just splendidly by Ben Daniels. We may feel we know all we need to about Sigurd after our first introduction, but in fact the character just keeps on growing throughout the film. It's great.
It is to this household that there arrives our hero Captain Brandt - injured, anti-SS and fresh from witnessing (and not standing idly by in the face of) the latter's atrocities in Poland. Nicely for the plot and story (if of course naively), Brandt is still prepared to believe at this early stage of the War that most German soldiers (SS or Wehrmacht) are above that kind of thing - hence the changing significance through the film of the titular word "Exception".
Brandt seems not especially noble himself (if perhaps typical) in more or less immediately opting to have his wicked way with the gorgeous maid Mieke (played with huge sympathy for the character by Lily James). Those of us always happy to see more of Lily James get to see a lot more, shall we say, but her actual (and in the film's later terms explicable) willingness to accept Brandt's attentions she later very sassily attributes - at the moment of his apology - to her having wanted him too! This is not the limits of the film's eroticism, and it certainly helps along an otherwise-doubtful story element; but it's also genuinely joyous to see an unlikely love blossom between these characters, as built on a healthy foundation of old-fashioned lust!
Again - all these years on from the War - one longs for the possibility of "the good German", who might act as decently and selflessly - or just in fact as "normally" as Brandt increasingly does. This is again a very nice opportunity for - and well seized by - Australian actor Jai Courtney.
In general, the palatial house seems to offer a bit of a refuge for an older, somewhat kinder and certainly more stately Germany to go on existing, and so it is with palpable tension that this world is intruded upon by none other than Herr Reichsfuhrer Himmler, who arrives with floozy in tow, does not hesitate to accept money from the lady of the house, and also makes plain, in the course of casual conversation over dinner, his plans for getting rid of excess children. Here we find yet another compelling role, this time for Eddie Marsan.
Much as the Imperial couple might have wished to woo - and ingratiate themselves with - their key guest, they rapidly find they lack the stomach for it, and this is a telling moment for the film that does reflect a real-life change of attitude known to history.
Himmler's local support already transferred to Holland includes Gestapo Inspektor Dietrich - yet another very nicely-acted if minor-ish part - this time for Mark Dexter.
Most of these main characters get to interact with each other, and the dialogue that involves - apart from mostly sounding authentic - is never less than insightful, and occasionally even tends towards the exquisite. Many times I had the impression that the makers have taken care to put the thing across as well as they possibly can. They seem to go the extra mile in many different ways.
While elements of the story are in the realms of fantasy, others draw on real issues, and anyway this is a crowd-pleaser that ought to have been true, even if it wasn't. The love-story element again compels because of its awesome simplicity, and one just roots for Brandt to survive the War so he might meet up again with his Mieke. Beyond that, the issues surrounding the exiled Emperor (a gift of a story if ever there was one) are thought-provoking and intriguing.
Perhaps I am easily pleased, and I'm certainly a sucker for an old-fashioned love story, but I found this one enjoyable and interesting, with acting and script-writing of a high calibre indeed.