The Exception


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Exception
"What might have been an edgy little thriller is transformed by Borgen director Jesper W Nielsen into the kind of bitchy workplace drama that will make many viewers grateful for the Covid lockdown."

A character-based thriller set in a Danish institute for the study of genocide, this adaptation of the Christian Jungersen novel boils it down to one simple question: why do people do bad things? The more interesting implied question - what makes most people think that they would never do bad things? - goes unaddressed as what might have been an edgy little thriller is transformed by Borgen director Jesper W Nielsen into the kind of bitchy workplace drama that will make many viewers grateful for the Covid lockdown.

Four women share an office at the institute: Iben (Danica Curcic), Malene (Amanda Collin), Anne-Lise (Borgen star Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Camilla (Lene Maria Christensen). They're currently gathering evidence against a Serbian war criminal and when the former two receive death threats they immediately suspect that he is behind them. The fact that the other two haven't prompts a discussion which gradually gives way to suspicion. Camilla is the outsider, exhibiting the kind of stressed and submissive behaviour that only makes the others dislike her more. She's also recently been turned down for work she really wanted to do. Could bitterness have prompted her to do this?

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As further incidents occur, extending to a possible murder, everyone's paranoia grows and different members of the group come under suspicion. Sexual jealousy and health concerns complicate the picture. Each of the women has secret moral failings, at least if one buys into the logic of the script - though one probably shouldn't take the psychology of it too seriously given its crude premise. The notion that everybody would behave like a Nazi given the right circumstances has been conclusively disproven (by, amongst other things, observation of what actually happened under the Nazis). It's used here as an excuse for empty cynicism and weakly-written characters. An attempted twist at the end, as one of the women does something unexpected, is too wide open to interpretation to provide the revelation that screenwriter Christian Torpe supposes.

The other problem with the premise, of course, is that the protagonists are women and, as such, will almost certainly have been threatened before, assuming that they've ever used the internet. Whilst it's certainly reasonable that they would take action after receiving threats when they thought they might actually be perceived as a threat by someone dangerous, the shocked way in which they talk about those cheesy looking email messages is hard to credit. Dealing daily with matters related to genocide gives people stronger stomachs.

The bullying scenes work well enough, emphasising the subtle forms that such aggression can take and the way that perpetrators often try to portray themselves as victims. Most of the performances are nothing to write home about but Curcic makes an impression, doing a lot more with her role than would appear to have been present on the page. Despite a few tense scenes in which the women fear they're being stalked and a dramatic conclusion which puts their earlier concerns into perspective, there are not many thrills to be had here. The tone is rather flat, the colour of the piece less noir than beige.

Reviewed on: 21 Jan 2021
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Death threats see suspicion grow between four women in an NGO.
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