The Exception is a slyly romantic and suspenseful World War II drama that will take you by surprise. It’s 1940 and the world isn’t yet as deep in war and terror as it will be. But the worst is in motion. Our story takes us to Holland, where Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) is in exile. Disgraced, he sits from afar and lives a life based on the hope that one day his country will call him home. He holds daily briefings and discusses war strategies at length with his trusted advisor and butler. His wife (Janet McTeer) reads signals in the larger society, hoping the same hope as he.
When a young German Captain (Jai Courtney) is sent to investigate the possibility of a British agent tasked with assassinating the Kaiser, their world grows a little more interesting. Captain Stefan Brandt doesn’t share the Kaiser’s enthusiasm for this development. He blames the Kaiser for the way the Germany of his youth was, he’d rather be off in action and danger, than looking after the past. It takes a new housemaid to change the way both men think. Mieke de Jong (Lily James) is Belgian, as far as any one knows. In reality, she’s Jewish. And she’s working with the British. When she begins to form different, but powerful relationships with both the Kaiser and the Captain, her mission becomes infinitely more complex.
The Exception is a sweeping story about missions and morals. About absolutes that suddenly become question marks. About changing perceptions. And most of all, about the improbable situations war creates. James, Courtney and Plummer deliver a trio of performances that cast a tapestry of intrigue over the familiar trappings of the genre. The stakes are high — they always are in such pictures — but the challenges feel somehow more palpable for those of us who haven’t been called to extraordinary and harrowing circumstances.
For polished drama and sleek history in a package that manages both surprises and suspense, The Exception is the perfect choice. This isn’t your traditional summer programming, but it packs more satisfaction than your average blockbuster.