The Exception (3 stars)

The Exception

A strong cast lend credibility to an interestingly premised if ultimately slightly schlocky Danish thriller

Workplace bullying gets seriously ugly in this slick little psychological thriller from Danish director Jesper W Nielsen, featuring the fabulous Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen, Westworld, The Duke of Burgundy). Knudsen begins the film somewhat pushed to the peripheries as it digs into the toxic dynamic of a quartet of female colleagues, three of whom are struggling in their personal lives – but, rest assured, she won't stay side-lined for long.

Set at a research centre for genocide in Copenhagen, it finds Knudsen's librarian Anne-Lise being bullied by two younger co-workers, who are also firm friends, with the office secretary Camilla (Lene Maria Chistensen) also aligning herself with them. The main culprit is the brittle Malene (Amanda Collin), who suffers from debilitating and degenerative arthritis – something which has given her cause to fear for her future – while her pal, former aid worker Iben (Danica Curcic), is haunted by memories of a child soldier after being taken hostage in Kenya. When Iben and Malene receive death threats, their first thought is that they are from a Serbian war criminal, who has been seen in Scandinavia, but their suspicions quickly shift to Anne-Lise.

Despite the film's glossy veneer, there's a slightly schlocky TV whodunnit-esque quality to it, giving it a certain amount of commercial appeal, but which can feel at odds with the weighty themes, as it juxtaposes the women's dark and sometimes deranged behaviour with Iben's work exploring the psychology of evil through wartime atrocities.

Based on Christian Jungersen's novel (with a screenplay by Christian Torpe), the film keeps trying to pull surprises out of the bag in its final throes in a way that feels a bit exhausting, while there's the occasional unwelcome cliché (near-thwarted attempts at snooping, a police officer who literally says 'Just one more thing,' on exiting). But it's an interesting conceit to use such a prosaic scenario to explore what humans are capable of. Fuelled by strong performances and suspense, The Exception is persuasive in its belief that even the most casual cruelty can have potentially devastating consequences.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 22 Jan.

The Exception

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Denmark / Norway / Sweden
  • 1h 55min
  • Directed by: Jesper W. Nielsen
  • Cast: Danica Curcic, Amanda Collin, Sidse Babett Knudsen
  • UK release: 22 January 2021