A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Exception is a romantic WWII drama/thriller. While fictional, it has historical elements, focusing on the romance between a disgraced German soldier and a Dutch-Jewish maid. The sexual content is notably mature; there's full-frontal male nudity, topless women, a naked bottom, graphic sex, scenes of men and women lying in bed together, sex talk, and more. There's also some violence: Guns and shooting are shown, and there are images of dead bodies and one beaten, bloodied character. Viewers will also see Nazi imagery and hear dialogue about the Nazi agenda. Swearing is infrequent but includes more than one use of "f--k." Characters are shown drinking and/or drunk in some scenes, with no consequences; there's also a lot of cigarette smoking. While it's not exactly a deep story, it's also not as dry as it could have been, and it may be an introduction to a part of history for some older teens.
What's the story?
In THE EXCEPTION, a disgraced German soldier, Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), is assigned to the palace of former German ruler Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer), who's still considered a powerful figurehead. It's the early days of WWII, and headquarters seems to think that a British spy is nearby. No sooner does Brandt arrive than he starts an illicit love affair with a Dutch maid, Mieke de Jong (Lily James), which is against the rules of the house. When they're caught, Wilhelm's wife (Janet McTeer) wants them punished, but Wilhelm gives them a pass, citing his own rowdy youth. Things take a turn when Mieke admits to Brandt that she's actually Jewish, and then Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) pays a visit, hinting at a terrifying new Nazi agenda. Can Brandt continue to protect both Wilhelm and the woman he loves?
Is it any good?
This quasi-biographical drama could have been a dry-as-a-bone history lesson, filled with exposition and explanation, but instead it turns into a glossy romance. In truth, Simon Burke's screenplay -- based on a novel by Alan Judd -- doesn't even explain directly who Kaiser Wilhelm II was. Rather, his position and history are slowly, wisely inferred through behavior and dialogue. The same goes for sinister Nazi Heinrich Himmler; if viewers go into The Exception not knowing this chapter in history, they'll soon figure it out for themselves.
It's up to Courtney and James to carry the weight of the story, and they're up to the task. Courtney has often played sneering thugs, but here he softens up nicely, sharing a strong chemistry with James. Director David Leveaux -- a Tony-nominated theater director making his feature filmmaking debut -- keeps things appealing, classical, and straightforward, although he's not afraid to shy away from human sexuality or human fallibility. Even so, the movie's highlight is clearly Plummer, who plays Wilhelm with a delightful twinkle in his eye.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Exception's depiction of sex. Is it gratuitous? Is it appropriate? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
How much violence is shown? How does the onscreen violence compare to the spoken descriptions of the Holocaust? Which impacted you more? Why do you think that is?
How much did you learn about historical figures like Kaiser Wilhelm II or Heinrich Himmler from the movie? How much do you suppose was true, and how much was made up for this story? Why might filmmakers decide to alter the facts?
- In theaters: June 2, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: August 8, 2017
- Cast: Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer
- Director: David Leveaux
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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