THE STORY – When university professor Deborah E. Lipstadt includes World War II historian David Irving in a book about Holocaust deniers, Irving accuses her of libel and sparks a legal battle for historical truth. With the burden of proof placed on the accused, Lipstadt and her legal team fight to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred. Based on the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.”
THE CAST – Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius & Alex Jennings
THE TEAM – Mick Jackson (Director) & David Hare (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
By Matt N.
Did the Holocaust happen? You’re damn right it did. As hard as it is to prove with so many years removed from the terrifying events and much of the evidence destroyed by the Nazi party, we still have proof that it did take place. However, there are those who are still trying to pervert history and are convincing others that it did not happen. Such a change in thought can easily allow for another horrific event to happen yet again. As such, Holocaust deniers need to be shut down and that is exactly what Deborah Lipstadt chose to do when she took on renowned historian David Irving in a libel lawsuit in the U.K. during the 90’s.
University professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) resides in America and is one day accused by World War II historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) of libel, as Deborah had said some remarks in her latest book calling the man a Holocaust denier. Irving feels this is a great blow to his reputation and files legal action against her in the British court. Unlike the American court system, the burden of proof is on the accused and now Lipstadt must team up with her lawyers Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) to prove that Irving knows he is lying and that the Holocaust did indeed happen.
“Denial” presents some thought provoking ideas through its screenplay on the very nature of lying and distorting the truth until it becomes a reality. We see many politicians doing that exact same thing on a daily basis but it is here with “Denial” that we see an event with as much weight as the Holocaust get deliberated over in an attempt to win a case in a court of law. The libel case between two people may feel almost like bickering when compared to the enormity of the Holocaust itself. However, it goes beyond much more than that. Deborah Lipstadt was a Jewish woman herself who took much pride in what it was she was doing and felt that she needed to give voice to the survivors and the dead. However, the screenplay goes in a very unexpected direction where Deborah is advised by her lawyers to be silent, to not call any survivors to the stand and simply allow the lawyers to do their job. It’s a welcome change from the typical “Hollywood” styled way we expect these things to play out with big emotional moments of a survivor recounting their experience at Auschwitz. But director Mick Jackson’s decision to take the characters to the actual location itself and have these long lingering shots on the concentration camps is forceful and manipulating. Look no further than the final shot of the film which is in this reviewer’s humble opinion, completely unnecessary. When the screenplay and direction focus on the courtroom scenes between Weisz, Wilkinson and Spall’s characters “Denial” is at its best. When the film tries to tackle the Holocaust itself, that is when the film starts to falter.
The performances by the cast are strong but not perfect. Rachel Weisz’s performance knows no such thing as subtlety and as a result, her character comes off as more annoying than anything. Timothy Spall is charismatic and perfectly suitable as the antagonist who is so revolting that every word that comes out of his mouth is met with disdain from the audience. He is hindered by the screenplay’s lack of depth for the character as Spall is forced to give a one-note performance that, while vile, is simply boring in the grand scheme of things. Wilkinson fairs the best in presenting a fully rounded out character that is good at his job and tries to not allow the emotion of the case get to him mentally until it overwhelms him. His performance is probably the film’s best. Andrew Scott has the last significant role in the film and he is fine but everyone else is confined to the background (Minus an out of place scene involving a young female lawyer on her first case, as we see how the case is impacting her personal life and then we never return back to it).
“Denial” is a fine film. It’s not perfect. It’s not great. It’s at its best when it focuses on the legal courtroom proceedings and we as Americans see how different the British court system is from our own and how Deborah must navigate through that and not allow her emotions to get in the way of winning the case. The film would make for a nice double feature alongside this year’s “Imperium” as we see first-hand how Nazi sympathizers have not gone away and the threat of another potential Holocaust one day looms large over the world still. “Denial” attempts to stand up to the hate and shows how through hard work and teamwork we can do that which is right and just. It’s a fine film with a good message, just nothing particularly special.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Strong performances from Weisz, Wilkinson and Spall
THE BAD – The script is as on the nose as the direction feels forced.