Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Leveaux|
|Written by||Simon Burke|
|Based on||The Kaiser's Last Kiss|
by Alan Judd
|Music by||Ilan Eshkeri|
|Edited by||Nicolas Gaster|
The Exception is a 2016 romantic war drama directed by David Leveaux, in his directorial debut, and written by Simon Burke, based on Alan Judd's 2003 novel The Kaiser's Last Kiss. The film stars Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer, and Christopher Plummer. The plot is a fictionalized account of the life of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Plummer). When a Wehrmacht officer (Courtney) is ordered to determine whether or not a British spy has infiltrated the Kaiser's residence with a view to assassinating the deposed monarch. He falls in love with one of the Kaiser's maids (James) during his investigation. The film is set in Occupied Holland during World War II.
In 2014, Egoli Tossell Film announced that development on a film adaptation of Judd's novel had begun. Principal photography in Belgium lasted six weeks in 2015. The film held its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations section. The film received a limited release and video-on-demand release on 2 June 2017 through A24 and DirecTV Cinema in the United States. The film was released on 2 October 2017 in the United Kingdom through Signature Entertainment.
During World War II, Wehrmacht Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is assigned to take command of the personal bodyguard of deposed German Emperor, Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) at his estate near Utrecht, Netherlands. Following the German invasion of the Netherlands, Nazi authorities are concerned that Allied spies may be planning to assassinate the former monarch.
Upon arriving at Huis Doorn, Brandt meets the deposed Kaiser, who remains deeply depressed over his overthrow in 1918 and over the fact that the German people still blame him for their suffering during and since World War I.
Even though the Kaiser's adjutant, Colonel Sigurd von Ilsemann (Ben Daniels) gives Brandt strict orders not to interfere with the female servants, Brandt is immediately drawn into a passionate affair with Mieke de Jong (Lily James), one of the maids. Mieke soon reveals to Brandt that she is secretly Jewish.
Gestapo Inspector Dietrich (Mark Dexter) informs Brandt that the British Secret Service has an agent with a radio in a nearby village. In addition to keeping an eye on the former Kaiser, Brandt is ordered to determine and report the identity of the agent inside the ex-Kaiser's household.
Unbeknownst to Brandt, the spy is Mieke, whose radio-bearing handler is the Dutch Reformed pastor of the village. When SS Commander Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) decides to visit with a large SS platoon, Brandt is forced to choose between following orders and protecting Mieke.
As his involvement with Mieke continues, Brandt notices a smell of gun oil from her room. He later sees Mieke leaving the residence grounds and follows her. Mieke again visits the pastor and, unaware that Brandt is watching outside a window, tells the pastor that she is prepared to assassinate Himmler as revenge for the SS' murder of her father and husband. The pastor responds that assassinating Himmler is not their mission.
The SS then intercepts the pastor’s radio transmissions to Britain. They arrest and mercilessly torture him, demanding the name of the other spy. Shortly afterward, Wilhelm's wife Empress Hermine (Janet McTeer), who envies her husband's fondness for Mieke, discovers the lovers' affair and notifies Wilhelm. Hermine expects her husband to dismiss Mieke and to have Brandt court-martialed. Wilhelm, however, angrily responds that even though he no longer rules Germany, he will rule his own house. In private, he reveals to the lovers that he fathered illegitimate children before and after marrying his first wife. Saying that he is no hypocrite, the former Kaiser orders the lovers to go about their duties and to be more discreet from now on.
When the time comes to have the house searched before Himmler's arrival, Brandt himself searches Mieke's room to protect her ruse.
After Himmler's arrival, Brandt learns that the tortured pastor has revealed Mieke's identity as the British agent. He locates her and urges her to flee. She refuses, insisting that she has a duty.
Meanwhile, Himmler extends to Wilhelm an invitation from Adolf Hitler to return to his former throne in Berlin. He then meets with Brandt and Dietrich, informing them of the gesture and its intention as a trap to identify and slaughter Germans who support the monarchy's restoration.
Hermina is overjoyed at the thought of finally becoming Empress of Germany. Wilhelm, troubled by Himmler's boasts about the euthanasia of disabled children, remains unsure of the offer even when Colonel von Ilsemann speaks to him of the Christian values of the Imperial Family and how Wilhelm can become, "a restraining influence."
In conversation with Col. von Ilsemann, Brandt askes whether an officer can serve something other than his country. The Colonel replies, "First you must decide what is your country and if it even still exists." Against orders, Brandt reveals Himmler's plans for the Kaiser's supporters. Although horrified, the Colonel thanks Brandt.
Mieke does her duty and reveals to Wilhelm a message from the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Wilhelm is offered political asylum in Great Britain and the throne of a defeated Germany after the war. Wilhelm refuses, having decided that he is finally at peace with the loss of his throne.
As the Gestapo closes in on Mieke, Brandt devises an escape plan. Wilhelm, Mieke, and Brandt escape in a van as the former Kaiser pretends to have a heart attack. Brandt kills Dietrich and another SS officer in the process.
Deep in the woods, Mieke asks Brandt to flee with her. She fears if he stays, he will be executed for the murders. Brandt, however, insists that he has a duty to Germany and a protective alibi (he brought Wilhelm to hospital, while the spy killed the SS officers and escaped).
As Mieke departs, Brandt repeats the marriage proposal that Mieke had earlier refused. This time, she tells Brandt yes and to find her after the war. She disappears into the woods.
Some time later, Brandt is seen at a desk in a Berlin office. He is delivered a package, which contains a book of Friedrich Nietzsche's writings that Mieke had shown him. Inside is written a London address. In London, Mieke is seated on a park bench when she is informed that Churchill is ready to see her. Rising, Mieke puts her hand on her belly, revealing that she is pregnant.
In Utrecht, Col. von Ilsemann informs the former Kaiser that Captain Brandt has called from Berlin with wonderful news. Realizing that Mieke has escaped to Britain, Wilhelm is overjoyed.
In Brandt's office, an air raid siren sounds. While others evacuate, Brandt remains seated, reading Mieke's book.
- Lily James as Mieke de Jong
- Jai Courtney as Captain Stefan Brandt
- Janet McTeer as Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz
- Christopher Plummer as Kaiser Wilhelm II
- Eddie Marsan as Heinrich Himmler
- Ben Daniels as Colonel Sigurd von Ilsemann
- Mark Dexter as Dietrich
- Kris Cuppens as Pastor Hendriks
- Anton Lesser as General Falkenberg
- Lucas Tavernier as SS-Colonel Meyer
Christopher Plummer's longtime manager and one of the film's lead producers, Lou Pitt, was recommended Alan Judd's novel The Kaiser's Last Kiss. Pitt said, "The first time I heard about the novel was from Chris who liked the character and setting quite a lot as did I after reading it ... this would have been around 2005 or 2006. At the time, the book was under option, but for good reason, we kept an eye on it.”
On 21 May 2014, Egoli Tossell Film and its parent company Film House Germany revealed that a film adaptation of Judd's novel was in development. At the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Lotus Entertainment handled international sales for the film, previously titled The Kaiser's Last Kiss.
On 12 May 2015, it was announced that Lily James would play the character Mieke de Jong. On 7 July 2015, Jai Courtney was cast in the leading role as Captain Stefan Brandt. On 11 September 2015, Janet McTeer and Eddie Marsan joined the cast of The Kaiser's Last Kiss as Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz and Heinrich Himmler, respectively.
On 11 September 2015, it was confirmed that principal photography was underway in Belgium, The film was shot in 33 days over six weeks in various locations in Belgium in 2015. The scenes were filmed inside Leeuwergem Castle, Flanders.
In October 2016, A24 and DirecTV Cinema acquired U.S distribution rights to the film. The film was released on 2 June 2017. The film was the closing-night selection of the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival, where Lily James' performance was referred to as "a true breakout" by Festival co-founder and chief executive officer Gregg Schwenk. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. by Lionsgate on 8 August 2017.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 74% based on 53 reviews, with an average rating of 6.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Exception (The Kaiser's Last Kiss) elegantly blends well-dressed period romance and war drama into a solidly crafted story further elevated by Christopher Plummer's excellent work and the efforts of a talented supporting cast." Metacritic gives the film a score of 60 out of 100, based on reviews from 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
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