Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Leveaux|
|Written by||Simon Burke|
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 the 2003 novel The Kaiser's Last Kiss by Alan Judd. The film stars Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer, and Christopher Plummer. The plot is a fictionalized account of the last few days in the life of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Plummer), where a German soldier (Courtney) tries to determine if a British spy has infiltrated the Kaiser's home in the Netherlands during the onset of World War II. He falls for a young Jewish Dutch woman (James) during his investigation.
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, Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is sent to head the personal bodyguard of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer) at his Huis Doorn home in Utrecht, Netherlands. Following the invasion of the Netherlands, Nazi authorities are concerned that Dutch spies may be watching Wilhelm. Upon arriving at the residence, Brandt is drawn into an unexpected and passionate romance 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 in a nearby village. In addition to keeping an eye on the Kaiser, Brandt is ordered to determine and report the identity of the agent. It turns out to be Mieke, who reports to a pastor at the local church on events at the Kaiser's home. When SS Commander Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) decides to visit with a large SS platoon, Brandt is forced to choose between following the Nazi party agenda 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. 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 killing her father and husband. The SS then intercepts the pastor’s radio transmissions to Britain. They arrest and mercilessly beat the pastor. Shortly after, Wilhelm's wife Hermine (Janet McTeer) discovers the lovers' affair and notifies Wilhelm, expecting him to dismiss Mieke and discipline Brandt. Wilhelm, however, supports the relationship. In private, he reveals to the lovers that he fathered illegitimate children prior to meeting Hermine.
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 pastor has revealed Mieke as the British agent. He locates and urges her to go. She refuses, insisting that she has a duty. Meanwhile, Himmler extends to Wilhelm an invitation from Adolf Hitler to return to Berlin. He then meets with Brandt and Dietrich, informing them of the gesture and its intention as a trap to expose and eradicate supporters of the monarchy restoration. Against orders, Brandt passes the information along to Wilhelm’s adjutant, Colonel Sigurd von Ilsemann (Ben Daniels).
Mieke does her duty and imparts to Wilhelm a message from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Wilhelm is offered asylum in Great Britain and restoration to the German throne after the defeat of the Nazis. He refuses, preferring not to leave Utrecht. As the Gestapo closes in on the mansion, searching for Mieke, Brandt devises an escape plan. Wilhelm, Mieke, and Brandt escape in a van with Wilhelm pretending to have had a heart attack. Brandt kills Dietrich and another suspicious officer in the process. Deep in the woods, Mieke decides to flee, asking Brandt to join her. She fears 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 Mieke killed the officers and escaped). The two decide to part ways, with Mieke telling Brandt to find her after the war. As Mieke departs, Brandt repeats a marriage proposal that Mieke had earlier refused in fear. This time, she accepts, and 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 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 the prime minister is ready to see her. Rising, Mieke puts her hand on her belly, clearly indicating that she is pregnant. In Brandt's office, an air raid siren sounds. While others evacuate, Brandt remains seated, reading Mieke's book. A plane is heard flying overhead as the screen cuts to black.
- 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
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 execitive 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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