DENIAL (UK | USA/12A/109mins)
Directed by Mick Jackson. Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Timothy Spall, Mark Gatiss.
THE PLOT: In 2000, writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) found herself defending her work on those who deny the Holocaust, when self-proclaimed historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) took a defamation case against her the UK. Since in the UK, those accused of libel are presumed guilty until proven innocent, Lipstadt and her team found themselves in the unusual and confounding position of having to prove that the Holocaust actually happened.
THE VERDICT: Written for the screen by David Hare – whose last cinematic outing was the Kate Winslet film ‘The Reader’ – and directed by Mick Jackson who, after ‘The Bodyguard’, has not directed a film for the big screen since ‘Volcano’ in 1997, ‘Denial’ is a new take on a courtroom drama. While it is almost impossible to tell this true story without stepping into court, ‘Denial’ has the unusual focus of defending history in terms of a libel case.
The cast of ‘Denial’ features Rachel Weisz, Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall, and they all do well with their roles in the film. Weisz makes Lipstadt a powerful and outspoken woman, Scott does well with making solicitor Anthony Julius a rounded and tenacious character, Tom Wilkinson plays barrister Richard Rampton as a gentler and softer character, who is an intimidating and smart force in the courtroom, and Timothy Spall, although he has plenty of chances, never truly makes David Irving out to be a buffoon, or on the wrong side of history, more a misguided man whose opinions and views are outdated, racist and often wrong, but he has the courage to stand by his convictions.
David Hare’s screenplay focuses on the courtroom drama at the heart of the story, although there are times when the film journeys to Auschwitz and the US for the sake of research and making the story more interesting in the telling. The central conceit of the film – how do you prove something that every right thinking member of society knows to be true, and has been proven before – is a fascinating one, and it is in the proving that the story and drama of the film emerges. There are strong lines of dialogue throughout the film, and the balance between the human frustrations of the defence team, and their professionalism gives steadiness and credibility to the film.
As director, Mick Jackson does best when he is directing the courtroom scenes. These are tense and well constructed, and in making Deborah Lipstadt the incredulous heart of the film, the audience roots for her, and for her telling of the truth to win the day. There are times when the pacing of the film drops however, and although the central idea of the film is a fascinating one, the film ends up as another courtroom drama; a format that we have seen many times before.
In all, ‘Denial’ has a fascinating idea at its heart; how do you prove that the truth is true? The cast do well in their roles, but in not being able to move ‘Denial’ out of the courtroom, it ends up being a well acted but familiar, if solid and engaging, story.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Legal drama Denial could be described as a personal battle between two historians and their legal teams in the last 15 – 20 years. However, there are wider and more devastating implications for how we perceive the genocide of 6 millions Jews in the Holocaust.

    Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a noted Jewish historian who works in an Atlanta university teaching her class about the problematic nature of Holocaust deniers. British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) is one such target of hers. When he hijacks her presentation and accuses her of distorting his take on the truth – that there was no Holocaust because there’s no proof – Deborah finds herself at the receiving end of of a libel lawsuit. She lawyers up, hiring solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson). However, in London the burden of truth is placed upon her to prove that the Holocaust happened. David represents himself, shooting down Richard’s case before court. While Deborah is ordered by her legal team to stay silent in court, she becomes troubled by Holocaust survivors who want to speak at the trial. However, Anthony is firmly against letting David anywhere near them…

    Based on the book History On Trial: My Day In Court With A Holocaust Denier by Lipstadt, noted screenwriter David Hare has fashioned a good court-room drama that is indirectly about the Holocaust (it happened, there’s no denying it) and more directly about perception and personal beliefs. The Holocaust is there in every second of the film, hanging over it like a cloud with echoes of the past. However, for better or worse, the film is firmly focused on three main things: David Irving, Deborah Lipstadt and Deborah’s legal team. There are strengths in this, such as zeroing in on the essential problem posed by this film: how to deal with people who firmly believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Free speech is an essential democratic right, but it only goes so far. What happens when it infringes on the rights of others, particularly those who suffered at the hands of horrific acts? It becomes a character portrait of Irving, a repellent ogre who at one moment slips into a misogynistic remark on camera. Remind you of anyone? Possibly someone sitting in an Oval Office right now?

    There are weaknesses in this approach too. The film should feel more weighty and important than it actually does. While there’s no denying the case’s significance in legal and historical terms, the film itself feels a little too under-stated and low-key. Maybe that’s why it’s been mostly shut out of awards ceremonies, though it has a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding British Film Of The Year. Director Mick Jackson has mostly worked in TV, so Denial is his first feature film in 15 years. There’s a TV-like feel to it, backed up the by BBC funding. It’s not hard to imagine it playing on a Sunday night on BBC Two next year. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing in the cinema now though. There are fine performances throughout, particularly from Spall who disappears into Irving, all fire and brimstone with his ugly personal beliefs. The court-room scenes are well-staged and acted and Jackson’s direction is competent. Denial is a worthy film, but not as worthy as one had hoped for. Flawed yes, but still very interesting and thought-provoking. ***