A compelling drama built around the real-life court case linked to the Holocaust.



Rachel Weisz


We may be only one month into 2017 but it can be stated with confidence that Mick Jackson's Denial is destined to feature in my top titles for the year. Indeed, it strikes me as a sad reflection on cinema today that this absorbing and intelligent real-life drama has received less than its due both at the hands of certain critics and in terms of its rather limited release around the country.


The writer here is the playwright David Hare whose subject is the libel action taken by the Nazi apologist David Irving (Timothy Spall) against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz). In a book published here by Penguin, she had made it clear that she regarded his denials about the Holocaust as a betrayal of his claim to be a valid historian and saw this as brought about by his racist attitudes in general and his anti-Semitism in particular. When Irving sued her he did so in England being aware that he had the advantage of the fact that English law puts the onus on the accused to prove that what is being described as libellous is in fact no such thing because it is true.


Jackson's film shows the events leading up to the court hearing in London and then follows the trial itself with Deborah represented by the barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Irving appearing in person having chosen to present his case himself. As such Denial is in the tradition of courtroom dramas, but it takes on extra weight due to the fact that denying history in this way, as done not only by Irving but by a number of others, is a very grave and disturbing issue. Here Hare's screenplay apparently follows the court transcript from 2000 quite closely and recognises throughout the importance of the subject matter.


Consequently the film takes on board the irony of the fact that in legal terms it is difficult to prove the reality of the Holocaust. It goes on to explore the conflict between Deborah's wish not only to give evidence herself but to have concentration camp survivors as witnesses and the advice given by her legal team to focus on undermining Irving's credibility and to deny him the chance to subject vulnerable witnesses to potentially humiliating cross-questioning. Deborah's passion which drives the film is contrasted with the surface detachment of lawyers who nevertheless know best how to proceed. As is stressed in a key line what feels best is not always what works best.


All told, with hardly any blemishes Denial sets out to avoid dramatic elaboration in the knowledge that a sober, straightforward presentation will work best for the serious-minded audience who will want to see this film. This aim is aided magnificently by outstandingly good performances from Weisz, Spall and Wilkinson and if, by odd coincidence, the film's portrayal of certain aspects of Irving puts some viewers in mind of another figure who is currently in the headlines that only adds to the impact of this admirable film. 




Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Alex Jennings, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Harriet Walter, Mark Gatiss, John Sessions, Jackie Clune, Will Attenborough, Daniel Cerqueira, Abigail Cruttenden, Hilton McRae, Jeremy Paxman.

Dir Mick Jackson, Pro Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff, Screenplay David Hare, based on the book Holocaust History on Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt, Ph Haris Zambarloukos, Pro Des Andrew McAlpine, Ed Justine Wright, Music Howard Shore, Costumes Odile Dicks-Mireaux.


Bleecker Street/Participant Media/BBCFilms/Krasnoff/Foster Entertainment/Shoebox Films-Entertainment One.
110 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 27 January 2017. Cert. 12A.