2017-02-10 07:42

What it's about:

The true life case of how Deborah E. Lipstadt, a highly respected professor of Holocaust and Jewish studies, went head to head in court with David Irving, an infamous historian and Holocaust-denier, to fight the libel suit that Irving brought against her after she called him out in her latest book.

What we thought:

Based on Deborah Lipstadt's own book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, Denial is a film that may lack in terms of cinematic scope (you won't lose much watching it on TV, in other words) but it is nonetheless a compelling, intriguing drama with excellent performances and a level of timeliness that is almost shocking. 

Denial isn't simply about Holocaust denial and it's certainly not really directly about the Holocaust itself (though it does treat it with all the sombre respect such a subject deserves), so much as it's about seriously relevant questions about free speech, racism/anti-semitism and the nature of facts. 

While the rising tide of anti-semitism sweeps once again throughout the world - on both sides of the political isle - and anti-Muslim hysteria has turned sensible cautions against Islamist terrorism into blatantly obvious religious discrimination, the film's examination of the insidious nature of racial, religious and cultural prejudices strikes a particularly resonant note. 

In particular, Timothy Spall's superb portrayal of David Irving brilliantly conveys the duplicity, complexity and, yes, humanity of deep-seated hatred. In one scene in particular, his attempt to reject any claims that he is a racist by pointing to the many non-white maids he has hired over the years seems less like a desperate lie and more a total failure to understand his own, intrinsic prejudices – especially as he goes on, with some bewilderment in his voice, to note how physically attracted he has been to most of these maids.

Even more intriguing, though, is the way the film deals with free speech and its relation to the non-immutability of facts. Denial was released in UK cinemas the very same week that Donald Trump's key counsellor, Kellyanne Conway came up with the horrifying idea of “alternative facts”, even as her boss continued his endless war on the media and those appointed with keeping men like him in check. 

“Timely” doesn't even begin to cover just on point Denial turned out to be at the time of its release, as Lipstadt (another typically wonderful turn from Rachel Weisz; fiercely magnetic with a thick Queens accent) fights furiously against someone who believes that his twisted distortions of the truth should be impervious to the harsh criticisms of the (Jewish) person who knows them to be patently and provably false – to the point where he even tries to sue her for libel. Any of this ringing a bell?

It's brilliantly intriguing stuff that holds the attention throughout and mostly papers over the film's few undeniable flaws. Screenwriter David Hare has written some notable films in his many years as a working writer but he is mostly known as an exceptional playwright, which partly explains why the film feels so much more like a stage play than a proper piece of cinema but director Mick Jackson (LA Story, Temple Grandin) certainly cements this feeling with his solid but rather workmanlike direction.    

It also comes dangerously close to being emotionally inert, especially with its stiff-upper-lip Britishness but Spall, Weisz and, most especially, Tom Wilkinson bring real heart and soul to these characters, as much as they bring complexity and shades of uncertainty. Still, considering its subject matter, that it is compelling mostly by nature of being intellectually engaging, rather than emotionally resonant, is undeniably a problem.

Fortunately, what works about the film, works brilliantly and, even if it's not the sort of thing that you absolutely have to see on the big screen, there could hardly be a better time than now to watch this engaging and, dare I say it, important true-life drama.

Read more on:    rachel weisz  |  movies

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